Cogheart, by Peter Bunzl

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‘The trouble was, Lily reflected, as she sneaked up the last set of stairs to the girls’ dormitory, she didn’t want the life of a well-bred Victorian young lady, she wanted the life of an air-pirate’

I feel that there is a worrying trend in children’s books. We all know, of course, that it is traditional for literary children to lack parents. This has been established for a long time. If the parents aren’t actually dead then they are made conveniently unavailable for the duration of the story – my favourite example of this is the classic case in Five on a Treasure Island where Julian, Dick and Anne’s parents decree that they are going on holiday alone, and sending the children to stay with their hitherto unheard of eccentric Uncle Quentin. We all take this for granted now, but it really does seem odd when you look back on it. Nowadays however, it seems that not only are the parents almost always absent but that the point of the story is to rescue them. This was the case in the last two books I discussed, Time Travelling with a Hamster and Rooftoppers, and it’s also the case in Cogheart. Admittedly I don’t have children, but I’m pretty sure parenting isn’t supposed to work like this.

Even so, I still recommend Cogheart tremendously. Lily’s attempts to locate her missing (believed dead) father has many points in its favour: a feisty red-haired heroine, steampunk air-ships, a map in the front (I automatically regard any book which includes a map as a book worth reading) and a sassy mechanical fox named Malkin. How could anyone say no to a book with a mechanical fox? Cogheart prompts one to think about home and family – strong themes that have become somewhat clichéd but are nevertheless important to remember. It also strays into very thought provoking territory with the conundrum surrounding mechanical beings, providing an accessible steampunk equivalent to the debates surrounding artificial intelligence. But it’s an adventure story at heart, and it was this that I enjoyed most about it. Who doesn’t want to be an air-pirate after all?

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