Steampunk for Kids – The Jupiter Chronicles

072115 Chris Banner

Jupiter ChroniclesThis week I have the opportunity to review The Jupiter Chronicles: The Secret of the Great Red Spot by Leonardo Ramirez, a steampunk adventure novel for young readers. The novel includes a variety of steam-powered inventions, aliens, children whose curiosity gets the better of them, “somewhat” lost civilizations, mysterious forces, space battles, and, yes, even a farting robot. It is a perfect blend for anyone who enjoys speculative fiction mixed with humor.

The novel is set in an alternate version of 1892. Ian and Callie Castillo lost their father, Peter, in mysterious circumstances. For five years they had to live in a single parent household with their mother, Camilla, barely making enough for them to survive. Both children attend public school and Ian helps his mother by also working as a part-time chimney sweep.

A telescope that sits collecting dust in the attic is the last gift Peter left for his son. Ian wants nothing to do with it, but Callie is curious enough to go up to the attic one night and see if the telescope works. Ian follows her, angry that she has touched the telescope. But Callie’s actions trigger the device and it sends the children to the steam-powered floating cities of Jupiter. Upon their arrival, the children are faced with daunting tasks: they have to save the native people of Jupiter from all-out war and they have to rescue their father, who had been imprisoned by the Martians for the last five years.

POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD

From http://jupiterchronicles.com

From http://jupiterchronicles.com

There are a lot of fun aspects to this novel that will appeal to a young reader. (Some even appeal to adult readers like me!) Callie is a very spunky character. She has a habit of writing insulting things about the people around her in her journal, but reading them out loud at the same time.

Dear Journal,
My brother loves misery. He is hopeless. I think he’s a toad.
Love, Callie

She also confuses big works to a humorous effect, like referring to the Doomslayer robots as Noodle Makers

The two siblings have a typical brother/sister relationship. Even in the middle of a tense situation where they are being escorted by Doomslayer robots to prison, they start to bicker about inconsequential things:

“Eewww! Did you fart? I was standing right behind you! What did you do that for?”
Ian raised his hands.  “It wasn‟t me, twerp!” he shouted.
In the middle of their argument, they heard a metallic frrraaaaaaaaaap sound, accompanied by a hiss of smoke shooting out from the darkness behind the glowing eyes.  “Oh, I‟m so sorry. Sorry indeed,” cried a robot that clumsily clanked his way out of the shadows.
This robot was much like all the other Doomslayers except that it was rusty and a bit filthy.
“My name is –fraaaaap—Francisus Flatulus Ferdinand and I’m afraid my –frap, fraaaaap—insides are getting the best of me because I am simply so excited to see you both, yes indeed!”

Although, given how often that robot passes gas, it may not be so inconsequential.

From http://jupiterchronicles.com

From http://jupiterchronicles.com

Certain things that bother me as an adult reader in this novel will never register with a child reader. For example, the family is so poor they live on beans and rice, but there are chocolate bars in the kitchen for snacks or, in Callie’s case, to pack in her bag along with her journal in case she grows hungry during her adventure. Aspects like that take me out of the storyworld as I ponder a time/place where chocolate is as cheap to purchase as beans and rice, but I believe younger readers will never notice this issue.

The author lists the ages for this novel as 8 to 12 years on Amazon.com, and I think that range is appropriate. There are issues in The Jupiter Chronicles: The Secret of the Great Red Spot that readers younger than 8 would have trouble understanding: How the loss of a parent changes the family dynamic, how much despair and responsibility an older sibling shoulders during these times, and how hard it is on the remaining parent to simply provide the basics of food and shelter.

There is a disturbing passage early in the novel concerning the mother, Camilla, that might raise questions for some older readers. This, I expect, is deliberate on the author’s part. Ramirez wrote about the effects of an assault on a young girl in another novel, Haven. The Jupiter Chronicles: The Secret of the Great Red Spot places Camilla in a situation where there is the potential for such an assault by her landlord when he comes knocking on her door late one night:

“Mr. Crowley,” Camilla said sharply. “You will not disturb my household this late in the evening. My children are already in bed, mind you!”

Mr. Charles Crowley was a very short round man with a pointy nose and ragged face. His hands always shook when he spoke. “Miss Castillo, I wish to speak with you about a certain matter involving the rent.”

Camilla interrupted him. “Mr. Crowley we already agreed that my extra hours at the bakery would be more than enough to give me the means to pay you rent on time. And for heaven’s sake, it’s not even late yet! And by the way, it’s Mrs. Castillo.”

Mr. Crowley pointedly asks if Camilla has heard from Mr. Castillo recently. He tells her he cares about her the same way he “cares about all of his tenants” and wants to make certain that “everything is in order.” She slams the door in his face.

Later in the novel readers learn that Mr. Crowley is working for a shadowy presence. He watches the Castillo family and reports on their activities. However, the scene with Camilla cannot be explained away by this “spying” one hundred percent. Crowley’s actions are suspicious, to say the least, and certainly border on being lecherous. In the late 1800s women did not have the same type of legal protections in the modern era. A widow without the protection of an adult male (brother, father, uncle, or son) who also had to earn a living would be “fair game” to a slumlord like Crowley, who might consider a “midnight visit” part of the rent payment.

The implications of this visit will probably go over the younger readers’ heads, but it is present for the older teen/adult readers of the novel. It adds a deeper dimension to narrative, as does the issue with the absentee parent, and makes it worth reading. Of course, the steampunk settings, adventure, and robots with extreme flatulence add something special too. *

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*Can you tell I really liked Stinky Frank, the farting robot? I could just imagine him on Mystery Science Theater 3000 with Tom and Crow . . .

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