The traitor and the thief by Gareth Ward
Walker Books, 2017. ISBN 9781925381504
(Ages: 11+) Highly recommended. Steampunk genre. Spies. Friendship. Steampunk isn't for everyone, but this wonderful book is worth reading as a first foray into this inventive and curious genre. It is a genre worth exploring as a world of mechanical parts, devices and steam propulsion replaces things we know well and creates an historical twist of ingenuity and imagination, with a layer of grime, grease and steam.
Amongst this ingenious backdrop, Gareth Ward has created a spy novel involving young teen participants who are selected for their unusual talents, with the addition of treachery and villainy that rivals the magical world of Harry Potter (although in a much shorter book!). This counter-espionage training is set within the steam and mechanical driven world that exists prior to a major war, but with an innovative overdrive. Everything about the setting is not real, and yet it is draws heavily on the world of espionage and circumstances leading up to a real major conflict set in Europe. The fun of this book is that many real events are referenced in a veiled and twisted way, names are perverted and warped with meaning dripping from the choices, and there is excitement, secrecy and manoeuvring befitting a good spy novel. The central character, Sin, comes from an Oliver Twist, Dickensian-street urchin and thieving background, but he bears a mysterious history that makes him a suitable candidate for the Covert Operations Group (COG). His fellow candidates in the COG training school, Zonda and Velvet, are at odds, and trust is difficult to place confidently. In addition, which of the directors of the establishment is hiding secrets and who is to be feared? With word play and inventiveness dripping in 'spendiferosity' from the pages there is a sense of fun woven into this book, as well as the tension of a good spy novel. I loved every moment of this book, and will be sure to recommend it to both male and female readers. With predominantly spy drama, military-style training and impossible 'special-effects', it will appeal to action-lovers, but there is also a hint of the teen-relationship and coming-of-age personal discovery that will endear the characters to readers.
NB: A sequel is being written!