- Age Range: 9 - 12 years
- Grade Level: 4 - 7
- Lexile Measure: 730L (What's this?)
- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (August 25, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375855645
- ISBN-13: 978-0375855641
- Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 33 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,767,125 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Nine Pound Hammer (The Clockwork Dark, Book 1) Hardcover – August 25, 2009
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From School Library Journal
Grade 6–9—Bemis's debut novel presents a unique way of creating fantasy by drawing on the themes and archetypes of Southern folklore and American legend. In place of knights and dragons are hoodoo conjurers, pirate queens, and sirens. Twelve-year-old orphan Ray Cobb has a lodestone his father gave him that is pulling him to the South from rural Maine. He jumps from an orphan train and connects with the Ballyhoo, a train that houses a medicine show with a blind sharpshooter, a snake dancer, a fire-eater, and a sword swallower. Ray learns that his father was (and perhaps still is) Li'l Bill, a Rambler who helped John Henry win the competition with the steam engine. Ramblers, like knights of old, are protectors. Their evil adversary, known as the Gog, is a captain of industry—a cold and calculating champion of the machine who desires dominion. The medicine show is hiding the last of the mythical Swamp Sirens from him as he wants her for her ability to lure people so he can feed his evil machine with ruined souls. As the Gog rebuilds an even more monstrous machine than the one John Henry destroyed, a new generation of Rambler heroes, including Ray, takes up the fight of defending the wilderness. While Bemis's setup is fascinating, the novel is as overblown as any tall tale. The convoluted plot is difficult to unravel, and the connection with John Henry and his hammer not clear for the better part of the book.—Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME END
Tom Angleberger, author of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda:
"A rigorous adventure set in our own country’s folkloric past, when the sons of John Henry and Little Bill fought a desperate, fantastical battle for the soul of America. A series which any self-respecting middle school book nerd would wolf down eagerly."
"This is one of the best books I ever read! There are many twists and turns throughout the novel that kept me on the edge of my seat. Once I started I couldn't put it down until I was finished."
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Top customer reviews
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But, this is the first book I've seen, (apart from the originals), that incorporates American folktales as an important part of the plot and structure.
There is, however, good news and bad news.
The good news is that the American tales work. John Henry is front and center in this book. There's a sort of Pecos Bill angle. There is Gullah folk practice. There's a clear sense of Southern and Appalachian deep magic and forest knowledge. There's a bit of woodlore.
The bad news, although "bad" is a little strong, is that the writing ranges from good down to serviceable. Bemis is better at mood and exposition, and to some extent dialogue, than he is at action. That's OK by me because I don't think fight and action sequences add a lot to this kind of book, but be aware. The other weakness is the characters. There is variety, and some creative touches, but the main actors are still pretty sketchy. The villain is particularly thin, (although you have to love the name "Gog").I guess there's a trade-off here, because the book is a quick read, and I'm willing to forego some character development in the service of that quick read, but if you like lots of character detail you may be disappointed.
If nothing else, the writing is at least as good as most of the other fantasy/quest books now current, (by Riordan, Nix, Delaney, Flanagan, etc.), so it might be fun just to "buy American" for a change of pace.
My 9 years old loved it when I read to him, and then continued to read the book by himself.