Edward could have been having a better time on his holiday from school. He could have been enjoying himself at an aristocratic friend's estate. But he came home because his family needs him. There is no way they would make it through the year alive if he wasn't around to keep an eye on things. When the son of his father's best friend (an honorary cousin) crashes into Edward and takes up residence, Edward's summer goes from bad to worse. Everyone knows Cousin Freddie is an idiot, but his arrival kicks off a string of events that leads to the kidnapping of Edward's parents and eldest sister. The evil Sir Titus needs Edward's father to find a lost dragon tomb. Once the tomb is found, Sir Titus has no reason to keep his hostages alive. Knowing they have limited time and few options, Edward, his sisters, and Freddie take off in pursuit to rescue their family and put an end to Sir Titus's evil treasonous plans.
Edward is such an endearing hero. He sees himself as the practical one in his whacky family of absent-minded geniuses and frivolous socialites. He is a boy who dreams of adventure and becoming a spy. He longs to be appreciated for his talents and acknowledged for the important role he plays in keeping the family functioning. He is very much a 12 year old and he learns so much about himself and his family over the course of his adventures. Edward's younger sister Putty has inherited their father's technological genius, is completely uninterested in wearing dresses or being proper, and is the perfect foil for Edward. She is courageous and quick thinking and Edward needs her just as much she needs him. Edward's older sister Olivia is outwardly proper and studious, but has masses of hidden depths her siblings hadn't even seen before they started a perilous journey with her. Any one who follows this blog regularly knows sibling stories are one of my favorite things in the world, and this one is done exactly right. Then there is Freddie. I won't say a whole lot about him for reasons, and even this one little thing is a tad spoilery: I could sum up my feelings for him with a never ending string of heart eye emojis.
Secrets of the Dragon Tomb is a steampunk alternate history. In the world Samphire created, pathways were discovered between earth and mars that allow ships to travel between the two planets in a few weeks time. When this wondrous discovery is made, what do the nations of earth do? Colonize it. Of course. Because if Imperialistic forces had the power to do that we all know they would. There is a heavy British Empire presence and also a large Chinese section of Mars. It is 1816 and the British Empire is attempting to hold back Napoleon on Earth. Napoleon is busy attempting to launch his ships to Mars. The world is an intensely interesting and layered place. The politics and historical aspects push the plot, but don't overtake the adventure aspects and the characters, who are the heart of the story. However, there is a lot to notice in how the ancient Martians are treated, how the colonialists interact with them, and the attitude many seem to have toward the past and the excavating of the dragon tombs. There are many interesting parallels between the British fascination with Egypt at the time and the fascination with the Marian emperors and their dragon tombs.
The plot of the book is sure to please any reader who loves adventure and spy stories. The villains are willing to go to any length necessary to secure their ends, even if it means hurting children. The peril is very real and there are also the fantastic creatures that inhabit Mars that the heroes have to contend with. There are a lot of elements coming together to make the story, but Samphire threads them all together perfectly. The steampunk elements, Martian world, politics of war, spies, and archeology all come together to make a brilliant fully satisfying read. I could not put this book down.
In so many ways this book seems tailor made for my loves, that it is hard for me to fathom how a person might not like it. It's one of those books I will be trying to get everyone to read and I absolutely can not wait for the next one. (This has a satisfying end, but I know there is going to be a next one. YAY!)
I read an ARC received from the author. Secrets of the Dragon Tomb is on sale January 12.