After Max McCannor’s father departs for California to seek new markets for his inventions, leaving Max in the care of his grandparents, a tragic accident lands Max in the New York Charitable Orphanage for Wayward Boys and Girls. This institution is even less hospitable than it sounds, and after several years of cruel abuse from its caretakers, Max plots an escape, planning to make his way to Chicago and the home of his Aunt Maggie, his only remaining relative, whom he hopes will provide safe haven and some clues to his father’s whereabouts.
Max and his friends break out of the orphanage and begin their desperate journey to find his long-lost father, dodging the local authorities and running afoul of a thug in the pay of the orphanage keepers along the way. A few narrow escapes later, they find themselves in an explosive showdown aboard a dirigible bound for Chicago. Will they make it to safety? Even if they survive, will they be captured and sent back to the orphanage? Is there any hope Max’s father is still alive?
Escape, by T.M. Hunter and Lyndon Perry, is the first book in their series, The Adventures of Max McCannor, where we meet Max, his friends, and his enemies, and are drawn into his quest. The story quickly sets the stage and drops a few hints that this isn’t quite the history of Victorian-era America we know. It moves at a brisk clip without minimizing the hardships Max and his friends endure at the orphanage, nor the greater dangers they face after their escape. Max quickly steps into the leadership role for his group, though not without a few challenges along the way—and his adventure has only just begun.
Some details of the technology are a little hazy—the orphans manage to accidentally start up a disused steam-powered generator without stoking a coal-fired boiler or other visible heat source, and there are some lift-to-weight problems inherent in using a steam engine to power an airship (not to mention the hazard of igniting the lifting gas). There have been small steam-driven airships in our world, so a larger one’s not unreasonable given some differences in physics or technology in this alternate Earth, and I expect more information will emerge in later episodes. Anyhow, part of a steampunk story’s fun is the plethora of rococo steam- and clockwork-powered gadgetry spawned by mad science somehow gone right, and paying too much attention to how it all might or might not work in real life isn’t really the point.
Escape is an exciting adventure written for young-adult / middle school readers, but anyone who enjoys a perilous romp through the Age of Steam will find it a fun read. Some parental guidance may be appropriate for younger readers—there are some potentially disturbing descriptions of abuse at the orphanage and a few other situations where children are threatened or injured.
>>This review is based upon a copy of the book provided to me free of charge by the publisher, a courtesy I appreciate, but which does not guarantee my recommendation. I strive to evaluate every book I review purely on its intrinsic merits.<<