Shadowsea

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels here:

Cogheart | Moonlocket | Skycircus

Shadowsea was written by Peter Bunzl and first published in 2020. It is a middle grade steampunk science-fiction novel, focusing on the continuing adventures of Lily Townsend – a young girl with a perpetual motion machine for a heart. The novel carries on from where Cogheart (2016), Moonlocket (2017) and Skycircus (2018) left off, so I would recommend reading the novels in sequence to fully appreciate them.

Lily, Robert, John and Malkin are excited to travel to New York City. Not only will they be able to visit Selena and Caddy once again, but they will also get to ring in the New Year in one of the biggest and busiest cities on the planet. Yet Lily can’t help but also feel a little nervous. Now that the secrets of the Cogheart have been revealed to the world, she feels that everyone is watching her. No one seems to be interested in the wonderful things that she has achieved. They are only interested in her heart and the accident that took the life of her mother.

Yet it is not long before Lily finds herself swept up in a new adventure. The hotel room next door is occupied by the stern Professor Milksop and her young nephew, Dane. Professor Milksop advises them that Dane is seriously ill and needs his rest, but Lily is not convinced. It’s not long before Dane confirms her suspicions are correct. He has lost all of his memories but knows that something terrible has happened – something to do with Professor Milksop. He needs Lily’s help to find out who he is and what happened to his parents.

As Lily investigates, she uncovers a mystery that is beyond her wildest dreams, involving diamond thefts and a machine that can potentially reanimate the dead. Yet, when Caddy has a vision that Dane will soon be used to perform an unspeakable act and the young boy is suddenly kidnapped, Lily realises that they don’t have a lot of time. If they can’t save Dane before New Years Day, it could be too late to stop Professor Milksop’s terrible brand of science from being unleashed on the world…

I was a bit surprised to learn that Shadowsea existed, as Skycircus did feel as though it ended on a fairly final note. While I do feel that this made Shadowsea feel a bit unnecessary, I was at least relieved to find that I enjoyed it a lot more than the previous instalment. Yet, at the same time, this novel was sadly not as memorable as Cogheart or Moonlocket.

The setting this time moved away from London, which should have given the characters the opportunity to explore a brand-new Continent. Sadly, Shadowsea did not use this grand new setting to its advantage. While the characters do pay a brief visit to a couple of famous locations, including Grand Central Station and the Brooklyn Bridge, the protagonists seem to spend a large part of the story within their hotel. Personally, I felt that this was a bit of a waste. Lily’s past adventures have taken her across both England and France. It was a shame that she could not have explored more of America.

Still, all grumbles aside, the concept of Shadowsea was very interesting. I liked the way that it handled the introduction of electricity as a new technology in this steam-driven world. Bunzl presented this really nicely, taking the time to illustrate both its advantages and disadvantages. The way that this innovation was treated within the novel was effective, balancing the vision of a grand future with the grim threat presented by Professor Milksop’s sinister “Ouroboros Engine”.

Shadowsea was also the first time that the plot of the series has taken a turn towards the overtly supernatural. While this was touched upon in Moonlocket, which introduced Serena’s seances and Caddy’s visions of the future, Shadowsea uses this to create a much darker atmosphere. In the very first chapter, we see Professor Milksop’s reanimation experiment going awry and causing chaos in an undersea base. While the story does still have an incredibly positive ending, it should possibly noted that it is a lot scarier than the previous three instalments and so parents may want to give it a read before giving it to young or sensitive readers.

While the incident on the Shadowsea Base creates a compelling new mystery for Lily and her friends to solve, it took a very long time for this to truly come to fruition. The middle part of Shadowsea was especially slow-paced, as Lily spent a long time “investigating”, while never setting foot outside of her hotel. While this section did start to drag after a while, the story picked up in its climax as the protagonists finally got to travel beneath the sea.

The overall message of Shadowsea is also a bit darker and more serious than that of previous instalments, as Lily is forced to explore the very nature of life and death. While Skycircus was about accepting people’s differences, the plot of Shadowsea is about appreciating life. Everyone has a limited time that naturally ends, and they need to use that time to learn, grow and experience new things. While this is a very mature concept, it is handled sensitively and so really showed how Lily has grown as a character since Cogheart.

The characters are still the very best things about this series. Lily, Robert, Caddy and Malkin make a wonderful team of protagonists, each with remarkably different personalities and bringing unique skills to the group. However, the most interesting thing about Shadowsea was its lack of villain. While Professor Milksop seemed to fill this role for a while, she was not a traditional villain in the style of those in the previous instalments.

The story instead focused mainly on Dane – a new character who became particularly lost and confused following his traumatic experience in the opening chapter. While I won’t spoil Dane’s development for you here, I will just say that he presented an interesting addition to the series. Dane’s backstory is terribly tragic and, through the resolution of this, Lily and Robert both discovered a way to consolidate their own feelings towards their respective parents’ deaths.

I think that probably covers everything. Despite my gripes, Shadowsea formed a solid ending to this series. While it was not as strong as Cogheart or Moonlocket, it was a nice send off for the protagonists and its dark tone helped to give a sense that they were all growing up. This is certainly a series that I would recommend.

Shadowsea can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook or Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. 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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