From School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-This spine-tingling, action-packed, and emotionally powerful prequel to The Boneshaker (Clarion, 2010) can stand on its own and has much to offer discerning readers. Once upon a time, a woodsman was granted three wishes by a beautiful, uncanny woman, but he used them in a selfish, foolish way. So great were his crimes that not even the devil would let him enter into Hell. So Jack roams the world, searching for a place with a powerful crossroads. In 1877, New York City seems the perfect place to make into hell. He has sent his evil emissaries to kill or convert the five pillars of New York: five people charged with protecting the city. Fifteen-year-old orphan and cardsharp Sam Noctiluca is an unlikely hero, but when he befriends Jin, a young Chinese fireworks-maker, they are drawn into the battle. Soon they, and a ragtag cast of heroes, are the only ones who stand between New York and the supernatural forces of evil. While on the surface this is a simple tale of good versus evil, the book is richly fleshed out and overflows with folklore, Chinese alchemy, and historically accurate details. It also beautifully addresses the themes of friendship and loss and the healing power of innocent love. Offermann's delicate black-and-white illustrations contain a sense of innocence that further accentuates the contrast between Sam's group and the frightening evil that threatens the city.-Heather M. Campbell, formerly at Philip S. Miller Library, Castle Rock, COα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
In this prequel of sorts to The Boneshaker (2010), Milford again paints a painstaking portrait of a time (1877) and a place (Coney Island), and she casts the whole affair as a dark fairy tale pitting folk heroes against well-mannered demons happy to engage in, say, a card game with very high stakes. Our not-quite-human villains have decided that New York City would be a fine place to start up a new Hell. But to do it they must kill or turn the “pillars”—a group of five people who guard the true power structure of the city. Heading up the defense is 15-year-old huckster Sam and his new friend (and perhaps more?) Jin, a fireworks expert in a traveling show. Both kids have tortured pasts—Sam lost his parents and Jin was a Chinese “small-foot girl”—but their relationship is a joy, simultaneously stubborn and halting, rambunctious and shy. This is a tad on the long side, though you can’t fault Milford for getting carried away. By and large, this is subject matter left untouched by other YA authors. Grades 5-8. --Daniel Kraus