Ancient Appetites is a pleasant surprise – for once, we have an engrossing YA read that isn’t about a soppy romance or poorly written action sequences in an illogical and ill-drawn world. Here, the plot is complex, the characters nuanced, and at heart we have a mystery to solve. The steampunk trappings are fascinating but don’t overwhelm in this odd, alternate universe Victorian Ireland. And although the first book comletes a solid arc, there is a series-long ‘what is up with this world’set of mysteries that need to be answered. It makes for a satisfying read but with great potential for where McGann will go next.
Story: The Wildensterns have a gift – advanced healing – that has allowed the clan to grow in power over the centuries. To prevent stagnation, murdering clan members for power plays is quite all right – as long as the rules are followed. But the warlike past that necessitated the Wildenstern ruthlessness is gone – and the latest batch of heirs aren’t really interested in offing each other. Until their eldest brother/cousin is murdered.
The story starts innocuously enough – young Wildenstern cousins tracking a wild ‘engimal’ (a machine that is an alive animal) and taming it. That should give an idea of the very imaginative world building – which will include everything from medieval, blood thirsty relatives brought back to life, to walking toasters and rebellious tenants. Although we don’t really leave the Wildenstern manor for most of the book, we are given an ‘upstairs/downstairs’ set of POVs in the form of stableboy Francie (who is up to his neck in conspiracies and rebellions) and Nate, 18 year old son of the Wildenstern scion.
A story like this works only if we have interesting characters – and in lead narrator Nate (along with cousin Gerald and stableboy Francie), we have great POVs into this very different Ireland. Add in a fun group of side characters and we have a very serious yet very quirky steampunk infused world. Admittedly, I didn’t enjoy the Francie POV as much as the various Wildensterns siblings but had to laugh at the inane plots that were completely misinterpreted by the aristocrats. E.g., a simple robbery will end up being interpreted as a plot to assassinate most of the family – if only by pure chance and accident. It’s all very cleverly written and defies a lot of expectations as a result.
This is one trilogy I can’t wait to follow and see where this goes. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.