What do an orphaned street musician, an apprentice clockmaker, and a maid in a grand hotel have in common? Not much, on the surface; but in the magnificent, page-turning novel The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby, the lives of these three children soon interlock, like the turning gears of a clock, and they discover that they hold the key to each others’ problems. Guiseppe, Frederick, and Hannah are each remarkable in their own individual ways, but they face lives of hardship and problems that seem to be impossible to overcome on their own. The Clockwork Three is a fantastic novel that works like a well-oiled machine, bringing the trio of children together like meshing cogs, integrating their three fascinating stories into a book that has the markings of becoming a classic of children’s literature.
Who are the three children? Guiseppe is an orphan who arrived in America from Italy. His uncle brought him over on a ship, and then left him in the hands of Stephano, an evil man who forces the boys who work under him to go out into the streets every day and play music to make money for him. The orphans are called “buskers,” and they are street performers who are basically like beggars. The better a boy is at playing music, the more money he makes. Guiseppe is a very good violin player, but the violin he’s been given to use isn’t of the highest quality. That has limited the amount of money he can earn, and he has sometimes angered Stephano by not bringing him enough money to satisfy him. Stephano has beaten him and other boys in the past who haven’t brought in enough money, or thrown them down into the cellar with the rats for the night. The enchanted green violin Guiseppe finds one day might help him, but will it enable him to earn enough money to stash some away so that he can buy a ticket to go back to Italy?
Frederick’s past is largely unknown to him. He has forgotten most of his life before his mother left him at an orphanage that is really more like a factory where children labor under cruel overseers. Master Branch, whom Frederick is apprenticing for, is kind-hearted and wants to be like a father to the boy, but Frederick is afraid to let anyone get too close to him, and to reveal too much information about himself. He secretly works to build the most magnificent clockwork man the world has ever seen. But no matter how hard he tires, he can’t figure out how to make an adequate head for his creation. If only one would become available to him….
Hannah is a maid who has been compelled to work because her father is very ill, and her mother has to stay at home to care for him. She should still be in school, like her younger sisters, but she is now her family’s only source of income. Without the money she earns, her family would starve. The people she works for are vile, though, and Miss Wool does everything she can to make Hannah’s life miserable. If a mysterious fortune-telling and very wealthy guest at the hotel, Madam Pomeroy, hadn’t requested that Hannah work for her while she stays there, Miss Wool’s efforts to have Hannah fired would have devastated her family and herself. When Hannah’s father’s health gets even worse, and a sore on his leg gets infected, his doctor says that his leg must be amputated to prevent the infection from spreading. The only other solution is to buy very expensive medicine, but the only way for Hannah to get the money to purchase it would be for her to find the treasure that a long-deceased past guest of the hotel, Mr. Stroop, hid. Can she find it where others have failed, and in time to save her father’s leg?
Reading how the three children pass each other in the streets, individually meet each other, and then realize finally that their fates are tied together and that they must learn to trust each other and join forces to achieve their goals made The Clockwork Three come alive for me. The best YA and children’s literature, like the novels of Raold Dahl, Catherine Jinks, and Diane Duane, is as good as the best of any other genre (type) of literature, and if Matthew Kirby continues to write excellent fiction, I have no doubt that one day his name will be added to the list of the best all-time authors of children’s books.
The Clockwork Three is an impressive debut novel. It’s a historical fictional novel, with elements of urban fantasy and steampunk thrown in to the mix. The Clockwork Three is an exciting, very cool novel you’ll want to check out if you love reading historical fantasies. I can’t wait to see what Matthew Kirby comes up with next, and where his words and stories will take us. If he takes us to anywhere half as entertaining as where The Clockwork Three does, it will be another very wild and interesting ride!