For Phoebe Plumm, life in affluent Meridian revolves around trading pranks with irksome servant Micah Tanner and waiting for her world-renowned father, Dr. Jules Plumm, to return home. Chief Surveyor for The Foundry, a global corporation with an absolute monopoly on technology, Phoebe’s father is often absent for months at a time. But when a sudden and unexpected reunion leads to father and daughter being abducted, Phoebe and would-be rescuer Micah find themselves stranded in a stunning yet volatile world of living metal, one that has been ruthlessly plundered by The Foundry for centuries and is the secret source of every comfort and innovation the two refugees have ever known.
The Foundry’s Edge is the first instalment in The Book of Ore and is aimed at the middle grade market. As such it is a bit younger than I usually read, but in my opinion it’s very much at the upper range and there will be plenty young adult readers who will get a kick out of this story. It’s a very fun romp with a lot of action and very cool characters. I enjoyed the book tremendously, not least because of the wonderfully inventive world of Mehk and the cool characters that inhabit it.
The narrative is a portal novel with two distinct worlds between the human world where we first encounter Phoebe and Micah, in the city of Albright and that of Mehk, where they find themselves transported on their journey to rescue Phoebe’s father. The world of Albright is a modern one, yet at the same time had a steampunky vibe. It has a lot of amazing tech that makes the world feel exciting. But the world of Mehk is where Baity and Zelkowicz really go to town with their imaginations and creativity. Mehk is a completely different universe, not because it has magic, though there might be, but because life in Mehk is metal-based and everything is alien, yet strangely familiar to Phoebe and Micah. I really enjoyed the creatures the authors dreamed up and it made for a fascinating backdrop for the children’s adventures.
The main characters, Phoebe and Micah, are a great duo. Phoebe is a bit of a brat, between the way she treats those who care for her with her father away and her endless practical jokes, which at times a rather mean-spirited, yet at the same time is oddly endearing and ultimately rather lonely, with a father often away on business and having lost her mum in a drowning accident. Phoebe’s love of her father is sorely tested and she has to learn that hardest of lessons any child will have to learn, that their parents are fallible and human and forgiving them for it. Micah is the youngest son of her father’s housekeeper and employed as a grease monkey. Resentful of Phoebe’s privileged existence he is unaware of her sadness and loneliness and only decides to go after Phoebe and her father in hopes of making a good impression on him. Phoebe and Micah’s interactions start out rather adversarial, yet slowly trust grows between them, yet this doesn’t happen without setbacks either. The gradual change was well-handled and I really liked the bond they forged between them.
On their quest to rescue Phoebe’s father the children encounter numerous creatures, ranging from crane-like beings, to huge tank-like creatures, to one resembling a wheelbarrow who serves as transportation. The ones we get to know most closely though are Mr. Pynch, a ball-like creature, and The Marquis, who I picture something like a streetlamp, who serve as their guides to the Citadel and Dollop, a strangely lopsided creature, who can rearrange himself in whatever configuration is most useful and as a result doesn’t know who or what he is exactly. I loved Dollop; he rather reminded me of a cross between Harry Potter’s Dobby and Gurgi from The Black Cauldron. He doesn’t just provide comic relief at times, he’s also a non-threatening way from the children to learn about Mehk.
While the story is a big adventure and action-driven romp, there are some serious themes underlying the story, such as exploitation, genocide, annihilation, and colonialism. All is not well in the human world where Phoebe and Micah’s home country of Meridian is technologically superior due to its mechanical wonders. They are at the brink of war and there is a lot of politicking, heavily influenced by the corporate interests of the Foundry, source of these wonders. At the same time the Foundry commits atrocities in Mehk to obtain the components necessary to create their products, which leads to exploitation of the Mehkies, mass-killing of those considered expendable, annihilation of Mehk through an infestation known as CHAR and a general occupation of the world of Mehk, which leads to the rise of freedom fighters in the form of the Covenant. Baity and Zelkowicz slip these issues in with subtlety and without being heavy-handed.
The Foundry’s Edge was fun, yet with serious undertones. This book would be a great read for an adventure-mad middle-grader or young teen and is an entertaining read for adults as well. The first in a series, the book sets up the worlds and events, creating a conflict for the children to resolve in the next book and it will be interesting to see what Phoebe and Micah will have to deal with next, how they will take on The Foundry and help the innocent citizens of Mehk.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.