Moonlocket

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for Cogheart. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Moonlocket was written by Peter Bunzl and first published in 2017. It is a steampunk novel targeted at middle grade readers, focusing on two young protagonists as they attempt to outwit a master criminal. The novel forms the second instalment of The Cogheart Adventures series and is preceded by Cogheart (2016).

Although he has been welcomed into John and Lily’s home, Robert still does not feel welcome. He mourns for his father and feels nothing but animosity towards his mother – the woman who abandoned him when he was just a baby. However, everything changes when he sees a ghostly figure in the window of his old home. On investigation, he comes face to face with a dangerous vagabond and slowly starts to realise that there is more to his family than he ever realised.

The stranger is Jack Door – an infamous escape artist and thief – who was imprisoned after he managed to steal the Blood Moon Diamond right off the head of the Queen’s mechanical elephant during the Jubilee. He has now escaped from prison and is searching for his prize, and has reason to believe that Robert’s mother has hidden it from him.

Robert knows that they can’t let Jack get his hands on the diamond. With Lily and Malkin at his side, he travels to London in search of the jewel and his long-lost mother. His only clue is a broken locket and the mysterious cipher that it contains. However, he must be careful. Jack Door is a dangerous man and would stop at nothing to beat them to his treasure…

If you happened to follow my blog last year, you may remember that I was quite taken with Cogheart. While it wasn’t perfect, it was an entertaining read with some fantastic action sequences and world building. I’m pleased to say that Moonlocket is certainly a strong sequel, though it should be noted that this novel does pick up shortly after Cogheart left off. Moonlocket does its best to bring new readers up to speed, but I would still recommend reading the books in sequence if you want to fully appreciate them.

I personally found Moonlocket to be a lot easier to get into than its prequel. While Cogheart was a little slow burning, this novel is far quicker to find its feet and get into the action. It opens on Jack’s gaol break, which immediately captures the reader’s interest, and following this quickly sets the scene by illustrating Robert’s discontent and difficulty in resisting the draw of his old life.

However, the book does have a bit of a different feel to Cogheart. The first novel was quite ambitious in its world building and didn’t ever talk down to its reader. While Moonlocket is still challenging enough for a pre-teen reader to warrant a two page glossary of terms in the back, this time the focus of the story is quite different. Cogheart’s plot was rooted in patents and perpetual motion machines, while Moonlocket makes less of its science fiction elements. While the steampunk influences are still prominent in the tale, it is more of an adventure story set against the backdrop of Victorian London.

It should be noted that the story does present this very nicely. From the bustling West End to the stifling Underground, Bunzl does a fantastic job of capturing the look and feel of the city. The plot moves seamlessly from scene to scene, never feeling as though it lags and containing enough clues to allow a keen-eyed reader to figure out where the diamond is long before the protagonists do. I don’t want to reveal too much here for fear of spoiling it, but I will say that the novel builds to an incredibly satisfying climax that neatly wraps up the story. While a third novel is apparently in the works, it’s nice that this book is almost entirely self-contained as it staved off the dreaded middle novel syndrome.

However, as much as I enjoyed the story, there was still something missing from the formula. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what it was, but I personally think that it boils down to a weakness in characterisation. While the dialogue in this novel didn’t feel quite as clumsy as that in Cogheart, there was still a problem with the narrative telling things to the reader rather than showing them. The narrative voice frequently described how Lily didn’t feel comfortable knowing that she was a hybrid, yet this never impacted the plot at all. Only a few people in the novel find out about her mechanical heart, and those that she does tell don’t discriminate against her in any way.

And yet, despite this, her father remains overwhelmingly protective of her. John’s attitude seems really heavy handed in this novel, particularly as Lily proved so competent in rescuing him in the previous book. His desire to keep her hidden away dominates the first third of this novel, yet kind of fades from the plot after this and is never addressed after the climax. It’s unclear if Lily’s victories in this novel serve to change her father’s mind at all. As the climax is entirely centred around Robert’s relationship with his mother, Lily’s development just kind of fades away.

Yet Lily is at least a much stronger character this time around, proving to be entirely self-sufficient and ultimately being the one to save the day. While Robert also has a decent character arc, his plot didn’t quite go as far as I would have liked. While we initially feel his conflicted feelings towards his mother, this also seems to wane as the story progresses. The epilogue of the story feels far too rushed. After all his soul searching, his final decision comes far too quickly and after spending surprisingly little time getting to know his mother. Personally, I found this to be the novel’s biggest weakness. After a lot of build-up, the ultimate payoff lacked any real emotional impact.

However, my biggest disappointment was Tolly. This is a new character introduced in this novel and I spent the entire book waiting for him to do something. His appearance just seemed too coincidental and he was a bit too eager to help out Lily despite not knowing anything about her. Yet I was left disappointed. Tolly doesn’t really do anything in the novel other than guide the protagonists to various London locations. His impact on the plot was minimal beyond this and we don’t even really find out what becomes of him after the Jubilee. This felt like a bit of a waste, but perhaps Bunzl has plans for him in a future instalment.

Yet, despite my grumbles, I did really enjoy reading this novel. Moonlocket is fast paced and enthralling, presenting exciting action scenes and a memorable setting. While it did fall down a little in its characterisation, I’m still a fan and really can’t wait to see what kind of adventures that Lily and Robert have next.

Moonlocket can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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