I wrote this review as part of an assignment for the Reviewer, a graduate class with Horn Book editors Roger Sutton and Martha Parravano, in the spring of 2015. A 60-word version appears in the Spring 2016 issue of The Horn Book Guide.
Shanna Swendson. Rebel Mechanics: All Is Fair in Love and Revolution. FSG, 2015.
In an alternate-universe 1888, the British rule the American colonies through ether-powered magic, the only legally permitted source of energy.
Seventeen-year-old Verity Newton travels from provincial New Haven to bustling Manhattan in search of a governess position. Upon arriving, she makes fast friends with the Rebel Mechanics, an underground group of engineering students who plan to overthrow the magisters — the magical ruling class — with their innovative steam- and electricity-powered machinery and thus free the colonies from the British. When Verity is hired as governess to the nieces and nephew of the charming but secretive young magister Lord Henry Lyndon, she is placed in the perfect position to spy on behalf of the Rebel cause. A flirtation with the Mechanics’ handsome head engineer, Alec Emfinger (along with Lord Henry’s possible affections), keeps Verity on her toes as she tries not to get caught committing treason.
Verity narrates the action in her clear, straightforward voice, but she’s not without her own secret, one that could get her killed by either side. Fans of alternate history and adventure will relish the authentic period dialogue, consistent world-building, and Victorian-flavored chapter headings (such as “In Which My Position Becomes Unexpectedly Precarious”). A satisfying but open-ended conclusion leaves room for a sequel.*
I recommend Rebel Mechanics for ages 12 through adult.
* Rebel Magisters was published in 2016.