Mix the small town sweetness of Fannie Flagg's novels, some mysterious strangers from Neil Gaiman's tales, a little bit of Charlie Daniels, and some great writing, and you have a fabulous story by Kate Milford.
That's right, I said Charlie Daniels, as in “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” You just started singing that, didn't you? “He was looking for a soul to steal…”
With that description, The Boneshaker by Kate Milford (not to be confused with Cherie Priest's award-winning novel of the same name) probably sounds a bit odd, but this has become one of my favorite young adult novels of the year, and a lot of it has to do with the strong, intelligent Natalie Minks.
It's 1914 and Natalie Minks lives in the small town of Arcane, Missouri. Intrigued by all things mechanical, Natalie has spent her summer helping her father in his machine shop, trying to ride an old, odd bicycle he fixed for her, and putting together a clockwork automaton. When a snake oil salesman rides into town and makes the automaton work without winding it, Natalie senses trouble.
While almost everyone else in town is mesmerized by the salesman and his Nostrum Fair and Technological Medicine Show, Natalie isn't alone in sensing something strange. The oldest resident of the town, the one who beat the devil in a guitar face off years earlier, also has a bad feeling. He, Natalie, and her gang of friends try to uncover the mysteries of the medicine show before horrible things happen to the town.
Kate Milford does a wonderful job painting a picture of Arcane, its residents, and old town folklore (or is it folklore?) in this mysterious tale. While we've seen some of the good versus evil themes before, this tale feels new and intriguing, and it will keep you turning pages long into the night. Natalie Minks is a great character; she's one I don't want to let go. I wish a book series was built around her, though with how this ends I don't have a sense that this could be a series. I do hope that Kate Milford keeps writing, though. This is her first novel and I can't wait to read more.