It’s 1914, and 13-year-old Natalie Minks has a pretty good life. Her father is the local mechanic — bicycle, mostly, but he’ll tinker with cars — and her mother tells the most amazing stories about their town, Arcane. Natalie herself has a predisposition for both: she loves tinkering with her father as well as listening to her mother’s stories.
Then one day Dr. Jake Limberleg’s Nostrum Fair and Technological Medicine Show comes to town. It’s a fluke for the show to stop in Arcane — the show wagon’s front wheel comes off at the crossroads, and the caravan decides to set up shop while they wait for Mr. Minks to fix it. And that’s when the Trouble starts. Natalie, for better or for worse, is tuned into it, and with her frenemy Miranda and her trusty Chesterlane Eidolon bicycle (a boneshaker of an old thing that would be the fastest in the world, if Natalie could ever ride it), she decides to take on Limberleg and solve the mystery, saving her town. If she can.
Milford took the the idea of a Faustian Bargain — you know: those stories where a character meets the Devil and then outsmarts Old Scratch — and elevated it. Not only are there two parts to this bargain, but readers get historical tidbits in the mix as well. The traveling medicine show (I loved the Paragons of Science, even though they were Evil), the bicycles, the references to the “war” (which took me a minute to realize they meant the Civil War): it all added Atmosphere, which made the fantasy element, the bargains with the Devil at the Crossroads, that much creepier.
It was a little slow at first, but once the story got rolling, it really rocked. Fantastic.
Rated: Mild, for some intense moments (the Devil’s pretty scary), some violence, some disturbing images (if it were a movie), but no language or sexuality.