Goodreads: City of Secrets
Series: City of Secrets #1
Ever Barnes is an orphan living in the Switchboard Operating Facility. Like his father before him, he guards a secret that could save his city, although he does not know what it is. But the men who killed his father now mean to kill Ever, as well. Fortunately, he has Hannah, a new friend determined to help, no matter the cost.
City of Secrets is a fun steampunk adventure sure to delight its target audience of middle-grade readers. The story jumps immediately into the action, introducing the fascinating Switchboard Operating Facility, a call center that has moving staircases, hidden trapdoors, and more. And it is all overseen by Ever Barnes, a shy orphan boy who hides from the Switchboard’s menacing supervisor. Exactly what is going on in this building remains unclear, but the narrative sets up enough mystery to intrigue readers and get them hooked.
Initially, I admit, all the mystery left me more than a little confused. City of Secrets prefers to do its worldbuilding as it goes, meaning readers simply need to accept that they have entered a city full of spies, secret societies, and puzzle-like buildings without knowing precisely why all these things are necessary or what is going on. The main thing to hold on to is that Ever and Hannah are the protagonists, so one simply decides to cheer them on, whether or not they understand why. Truth be told, however, Hannah and Ever do not understand what is going on, either, so, really, the story is mostly a wild ride through secret passageways, hidden slides, and life-threatening booby traps. Presumably, all this action is meant to keep readers reading, in the hope that, eventually, something will be explained.
Most of the explanations, strangely, are left for the sequel, however. The quick overview given to Hannah and Ever of the city’s secrets feels more than a little unfulfilling, as does the book’s conclusion, which raises more questions than it answers. Again, I think readers are meant to be satisfied with the action–giant steampunk robots! giant cogs that can squish people! giant scary horror dogs!–and so distracted from asking for any real narrative meat. In fact, I strongly suspect that many of the questions raised by the plot do not have actual answers. Action-adventure excitement trumps narrative logic here.
Middle grade graphic novels are, however, in high demand right now, and avid readers tend to tear through them very quickly. I imagine this one will do well and be eagerly read by fans of steampunk and fantasy adventures, even if the worldbuilding and the plot are sorely lacking. The story has enough danger and mystery to be engrossing, even if reflective readers eventually realize that too much information is missing from the book for City of Secrets to be one of the year’s standout graphic novels.