Benjamin Bloomswell is pleased to be staying with his uncle in America while his parents are off on another business trip. It's like a vacation. But when a series of newspaper articles, telephone calls and mysterious disappearances result in his being sent to - and having to escape from - a sinister orphanage and the criminals who run it, he knows he's somehow got to find a way back to Europe. He has to get to his sister's boarding school before anyone else does. And somehow, he has to find his parents, who are also in trouble. But how... (from Goodreads)
This is such a cute book. It reminds me a lot of the Pseudonymous Bosch books, A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Mysterious Benedict Society series– by which I mean it’s got great kid protagonists, secret-mysterious things going on, action and adventure, and fun illustrations.
I will say that I do think it fell prey to the “shove as much possible in the first book to make it easier on the subsequent books” syndrome. It started off great! Ben’s brought to New York to live with his mysterious uncle while his parents go off to do something equally mysterious, and Ben has to adjust to living with an uncle he doesn’t really know about. Then things go to pot. His uncle is killed, his parents are dead, and apparently he has no other family who can take him so he has to go to an orphanage. Then he has to run for his life from some Serious Baddies and their Killer Robot (awesome!).
There’s a quick stop-off at an evil children’s orphanage, and here’s where the pacing started to falter. We spend so little time at the orphanage that it’s barely a blip in Ben’s life, and I don’t entirely see the point of even going there except for Ben to make a new friend (who never shows up again in this book). His new friend also just so happens to know how to escape the orphanage with minimal trouble and is happy to show Ben how to do it (what?). This whole sequence moved very quickly, so quickly I was left wondering why it was even in the book at all. I’m assuming either the orphanage or his new friend will have a bigger part in the next book, but really all it did in this one was temporarily frighten Ben and show off how nasty the baddies are.
Then, a chapter or two later, Ben escapes the orphanage and the pacing gets much better. He stows away on a ship bound for England, and just so happens to run into some circus people who not only know his parents but are also ex-spies or something. They start teaching Ben the stuff he needs to know to survive the Baddies and their Killer Robot and it’s a pretty cool part of the plot, actually.
After the ship Ben goes to live with the rest of the circus people, who agree to take him in and, later, help him rescue his sister, who’s stuck in a girls’ boarding school in Switzerland.
I really like Ben’s sister. She’s WONDERFUL and, to be honest, I wish she was the protagonist of the book instead of Ben. Ben’s an okay character; he’s gotsome pizzazz and he’ll no doubt turn out to be an excellent spy or secret agent. But he’s also kind of bland, and his sister was so much cooler. She and her boarding school friends have this whole system worked out to get around the Evil Nuns running their school, and they have escape routes and secret societies and it’s just awesome. I may have a slight prejudice against Ben because of my deep love for boarding schools and the girls who go to them, but I won’t apologize! Ahem.
Anyway, I enjoyed The Bloomswell Diaries, although I wish it had slowed down a bit instead of rushing from one plot point to another. Not that I wanted it to be SO slow that it was another Mysterious Benedict Society, just that I wish some more time had been spent on, like, everything. Especially the worldbuilding, because I’m not entirely sure what’s going on with the robots and whatnot. Is it actually steampunk? Is it set in the future or the past? How did the robots come to be? What’s the purpose of them besides just being cool? Are there other steampunk-y things in existence?
The Bloomswell Diaries is a good first book to a fun new kids series, and I think if you like any of the other book series I listed above you’ll like this one. Just be prepared for some bumps along the way.
Read: February 26-27, 2011