"review" · juvenile lit · recommend

like a clockwork

The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby

Scholastic, 2010.

386 pages, hardcover

Embark on an astonishing adventure… Giuseppe is an orphaned street musician who sees no way to escape from his ruthless master, until the day he finds an enchanted green violin. Frederick is an apprentice clockmaker with a past he cannot remember, who secretly works to build the most magnificent clockwork man the world has ever seen. Hannah is a maid in a grand hotel, whose life is one of endless drudgery, until she encounters a mystifying new guest and learns of a hidden treasure.

As mysterious circumstances bring them together, the lives of these three children soon interlock, like the turning gears of a clock, and they realize that each one holds the key to the others’ puzzles. the trio’s adventures sweep them through the winding alleyways and glittering plazas of their city, and along the way Giuseppe, Hannah, and Frederick must learn to trust in one another–and in themselves–for they risk losing the things they hold most dear, as the dangers they face quickly become all to real. ~dust cover.

In The Clockwork Three, the author Matthew J. Kirby is the “mysterious circumstance” that brings Giuseppe, Frederick, and Hannah together, creating plausible intersections in which the three unwittingly acquaint themselves with each other, absorbed in their own difficulties. They are finally brought together, pulling them out of the encompassing fogs of their individual troubles, where in their most desperate moments, they learn trust and the power/necessity of cooperation.

Children will be delighted to identify the intersections of the three children’s lives. The chapters alternate between the three protagonists, with a refreshing lack of labels as to which chapter the third-person-limited narrator is following. A chapter might move further ahead of the other two characters’ time-line, or back track and restart the day. The time-shifts are not hard to follow. Kirby provides the ticks necessary to mark the time, e.g. a rain storm, or time of day/street address. Really, this is a novel that seems to have considered everything, most importantly its young audience.

As I was reading, I kept thinking The Clockwork Three is “very clean.” Precise sentences with ne’er a contraction to be found outside of dialogue. The similes and metaphors that build images are fairly perfect, it almost feels natural. Anything this well-thought out should have the scent of antiseptic*, shouldn’t it? The story lines are hermetically sealed. The story, a well-oiled machine, has every piece carefully placed, some more visible than others.

Kirby would complicate the story in very nice ways. There are turns that rescue the novel from feeling predictable and safe in its outcome, while still it maintains a sense that it will all work out alright. Perhaps the underlying assurance of a happy ending is my being conscious that this is an American born middle-grade novel. Readers will be pleased by the heart-thumping chase scenes and the panic-inducing moments whenever Stephano and his crew are present.

There is peril, a mystery, a romance, music and mechanics; there is a bit of magic, and plenty of gritty realism. The three are not escapees from Hogwarts, a two-boys-and-a-girl trio who are created with personalities and dynamics of their own, and most importantly—are not too terribly clever. The novel works hard to balance the character-driven with the plot-driven aspects of any story, favoring neither too strongly–giving the characters a chance to take some control over their futures–finally.

Natalya’s favorite character was Giuseppe and I share her pick. The daughter claims it is because his life is the most difficult of the three and he is the most selfless. (She wasn’t sold on Hannah’s altruistic nature.)  Giuseppe is a nice open and close to the story; an open and close the author is sure to draw together, a reminder that a story is being told with the foreknowledge of outcomes. There is an epilogue; though it is limited in scope and time, making inferences only to some. Another novel could be born out of this one. Kirby has created some wonderful personalities that any reader wouldn’t mind revisiting once more.

The characterization is good. The Clockwork Three is a novel that is an exemplar of the idea of a novel transporting the reader. Kirby sets the reader down into a complete setting, fully imagined, addressing all of the senses. For a time, the Reader really is in the world of the book, alongside the characters created. Fans of Historical Fiction should be suitably impressed. [For those readers reluctant or resistant of Historical Fiction, The Clockwork Three is a fail-safe introduction to the genre.]

The Clockwork Three is a middle-grade novel that does everything right.

*and possibly envy?

3 thoughts on “like a clockwork

  1. This book sounds like a book that not only would I like but also Elliana. She likes historical fiction; discovered that fact this past Fall. I was surprised when I learned that fact because she gravitates greatly towards fantasy reads, as do I. 🙂

    I have put it on my list that I am creating for El.

    1. Natalya is not huge on Historical Fiction (unless has the Medieval bend, or England late 1800s early 1900s, or Renaissance Italy). She enjoyed this one. I checked it out for me and she got to it first and made sure I read it, we spent lunch talking about our experiences with it.
      Hope you enjoy it.

      She also got to ‘Heart of a Samurai’ by Margi Preus before I did and recommends it. “A novel inspired by a true adventure” Japan 1841. was pleasantly surprised she enjoyed this one. Hope to get to it soon.

      1. We now have another book added to our list. Thanks.
        Elliana would probably be interested in Japan 1841. She is curious about Japan which I think has been inspired by her love of drawing, manga, and the Studio Ghibli movies.

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