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Monday, November 9, 2009

"Nine Pound Hammer" Book One in the Clockwork Dark Series by John Claude Bemis (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Visit John Claude Bemis' website here

Introduction: With so many books now a days using Greek mythology, or Roman mythology or sometimes even Irish and Russian mythology as a base for the plot line in the novels, I knew it would be any day now that someone would use the idea of American Folklore and make it into a YA/children's book.

John Claude Bemis takes readers into a world where some of America's great folk heroes have been protecting the world from an evil clockwork character that is seeking domination over the world. Now it's those folk heroes' children turn to take up the fight.

Overview: Ray and his sister start out on a train bound for the south that is headed to finding the two young orphans a home. After Ray has experienced a dream in which he has had many many times before he strolls around the train trying to sort out why the dream seems so familiar to him. However since his father has gone missing many years ago, and with his mother's death there is no one to ask about these strange dreams.

While wandering around the train, Ray meets the strange owner of the train who convinces Ray that his sister might have a better opportunity to get adopted by a nice family if he wasn't around. After putting that thought in his head, Ray decides to jump off the train and make it on his own in the Southern wilderness.

Ray stumbles upon a small traveling medicine show that is filled with many side show performers. There's the girl that can get herself out of any locked box, the young boy who could only be described as the world's strongest man, a snake dancer and a sword swallower. All of whom readily accept Ray into their group as part of the family.

Something about this group of people seems off to Ray, as though they might have the use of magic to be able to perform all these stunts. Instead of magic what it appears to be is that these group of youngsters are really the children of a group of people who have sworn to protect the wild and the world known as the Ramblers.

Ray comes to find out that an ancient evil known only as the Gog has been trying to destroy all that is good and the Ramblers have spent centuries trying to prevent the Gog from finally seeking domination over the whole world. The Gog is back and is almost complete in restoring the one contraption that could help in his quest for power, there is just one more thing that he needs. What Ray doesn't know is that the medicine show is really keeping that one item locked up and safe from the Gog.

Ray will feel the calling of becoming a Rambler and with the other performers of the medicine show, they will head out to stop the Gog at all costs.

With a lot of action and some pirates thrown in, Nine Pound Hammer is an action packed steam punk fantasy.

Analysis: As stated in the introduction, there is a lot of stories that draw upon foreign mythology and folk stories to build up a whole novel. However there are a lot of American folk heroes and tales that could spark this type of creativity also. I've been very surprised that it actually took this long to see an author draw upon some of that and give it a try.

Jean Claude Bemis does an excellent job of creating the Ramblers and the history of the Ramblers throughout the book. As someone who great up with some of these folk tales told to me it was nice to see it integrated into the storyline. However sometimes I felt that there were a lot of details that were assumed and to an outsider who might not have heard the tale of John Henry fighting the steam hammer, it might be a little daunting and unclear.

The setting of Nine Pound Hammer is very unique in that it takes place in an almost 1800s American South setting. There are lots of train traveling and shows being brought to and from different towns in order to receive goods. Bemis does an excellent job of describing the trains that the characters are traveling on, each train is different and has something slightly unique from the other trains. For example, when Ray is traveling on the first very fancy train I could almost picture the lavish leather seats and over done cars. However when Ray is on the train that is used for the medicine show, I felt right along with the whole family. Picking such a small setting such as a train might appear at first glance to be boring or uneventful, but Bemis does work wonders in drawing readers right into the setting.

The combination of steam punk fantasy with American folk tales is something that is fresh and unique. There is the Gog and all his bad guys that are made of clockwork parts, and then there are the elements of the South and all that culture. It is something that I don't think the average reader will have encountered before and will be walking away with a unique experience.

Nine Pound Hammer has a lot of enduring qualities to it, but it's not a perfect book by far.

First there was the element of the crazy dandelion guy. This guy appears and reappears throughout the story and seems to be a little bizarre. With so much background history of the Ramblers and the Gog the fact that this dandelion man had no background, and was very mysterious was a little unsettling for myself. I never quite understood his role in the story and wonder if this is a foreshadowing for the other books in the series.

The second area that I felt could have had some work on was the ending. Nine Pound Hammer started out really strong and was an amazingly quick read for the first 100 or so pages. It was right when the fighting and action scenes started that it really slowed down. There appeared to be a lot of repetition in the fighting sequences and I almost felt like I had read that same fight scene a few pages back. I almost want to describe this as a perpetual loop but it wasn't that bad, just a tad on the repetitive side.

Lastly, the end of the book bothered me. Characters are downed right and left almost at the sake to make the fight scenes appear suspenseful and action packed. It is possible to end a fighting section of the book and not have someone injured or dead. In the last 30 pages something major happens to almost every single character whether it be injury or death. It felt almost as if Bemis was sacrificing the characters just to add to the fight scenes.

Keeping in mind that this is Bemis' debut novel it will be interesting to see if some of this is worked on in the future novels. There are still two more books scheduled for this series, and I'm anxiously awaiting to see what Bemis does bring to those novels as he shows an extreme talent and brings a fresh approach to YA novels. I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for something a little different from the ordinary fantasy settings.

NOTE: Nine Pound Hammer is titled the Mystifying Medicine Show in the UK.


The Fantasizer said...

Good review. I was wondering why is it that you predominantly review YA novels? Just a question. I have nothing against YA rather I enjoy the occasional foray into YA for which your reviews are always helpful.

Cindy said...

Well for myself I am on the first round Cybil awards panel in the middle grade/elementry section (a section of YA) and I'm trying to balance the "adult" titles with YA. But sadly I can read more YA books then adult books in a week.

With 97 titles that are in the Cybil awards that I either have read all the way through or read the bulk of I've come across some great titles that I wish to share that were also overlooked through the year. A requirment to be on the panel is that you must read the first 50 pages of the book before setting it aside.

When I came on to FBC as a reviewer the main reason was because my college degree focuse was children's lit and YA so originally I was supposed to focus mainly on bringing YA books into the review phase on this blog.

With some of our other reviewers taking small breaks due to life it's easier to write a YA review as they are they are an easy write for myself while an adult review I like to spend more time writing.

I thought I was balancing the books out well enough, if anything I felt that we were focusing more on UF or horror then any other books this past month.

The Fantasizer said...

Ok, now I get it; though I was talking only about you Cindy when I said "why is it that you predominantly review YA novels?" I got my answer, thank you for your reviews.
I am an ardent fan of fantasy book critic, I visit the site everyday. Personally, I consider FBC as one of the top 3 blogs for fantasy reviews.

Cindy said...

I didn't know if you were talking about me or the blog :). Right now my TBS is about 50/50 in terms of YA and Adult. Sometimes I just get in those funks where an adult book isn't working for me :) but there will be more coming up soon!

And thank you for the compliment on FBC, hopefully as the holidays wind down and such we'll be getting a wider range of novels from me :)

Anonymous said...

love this book and this blog


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