In The League of Seven, Alan Gratz imagines an alternate America in the 1870s where electricity (or lektricity, as they call it) is forbidden and has been replaced by a mix of steam, clockwork and gas. A world of steam-powered submarines and airships and aether pistols.
And monsters. Many, many monsters. As young Archie Dent soon finds out.
Every so often a group comes together, the League of Seven, made up of a tinker, a law-bringer, a scientist, a trickster, a warrior, a strong man, and a hero. Previous members of the League included legends such as Theseus and Hercules, Anansi and Maat. They fight against creatures called the Mangleborn and their offspring, the Manglespawn, protecting humanity, though only a small group, the Septemberists know anything about any of this. Most of the actual history of the world has become hidden in nursery rhymes and myths and legends.
Archie Dent is the child of Septemberists and hero-worships the League of Seven. Together with his parents and Mr. Rivets, their clockwork mechanical man (or Tik Tok), they travel to warn the Septemberists about the imminent release of Malacar Ahasherat, the Swarm Queen, an especially powerful Mangleborn. Except Archie soon discovers that all of the Septemberists are already being mind-controlled by insects attached to their necks. Archie escapes with his parents only to discover that they, too, are being controlled by the insects. Archie has no choice but to go with them to Florida, where they intend to release Malacar Ahasherat from her prison. The man in charge of these efforts is none other than Thomas Edison, who seeks to restore electricity to the world.
There, Archie meets Fergus, a Scottish boy who is a genius with machines and Hachi, a young First Nations girl who has a menagerie of small, clockwork animals who do her bidding. Circumstance leads them to join forces, in what Archie is convinced is the start of a new League. From there they go on a rollicking adventure to try to stop Edison and save Archie’s parents while saving Archie’s parents and figuring out what Malacar Ahasherat really wants (and why she keeps speaking in Archie’s mind).
Gratz’s world is really a triumph. It has the usual steampunk elements of zeppelins and clockwork men and steam-powered devices, but it also reimagines the United States as the United Nations, incorporating various First Nations as well as the Republics of Texas and California. New York is New Rome. The Inter-Net is a communications network made up of pneumatic tubes (complete with its own version of spam).
The world feels fully developed and there’s plenty here to inspire further stories. It seems clear that this is just the first in a series of books and Gratz plants plenty of seeds here for future books.
Oh, and did I mention that Nikola Tesla is in the book?
The League of Seven is a thrilling and exciting (and sometimes dark) beginning to what I hope is a long series to come. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys middle-grade fiction.
Rajan Khanna is a writer, narrator, reviewer and blogger. His first novel, Falling Sky, will be out from Pyr in October 2014. His website is www.rajankhanna.com and he tweets @rajanyk.