By Trevor A. Dutcher
Published on: June 15, 2019
If you’ve ever seen the Wacky Races by Hanna-Barbera, then you might have a little idea of what one leg of the race Michael McGillicuddy experiences is like. This steampunk book has a little of everything: heroes, heroines, villains, back-stabbers, fun gadgets, puzzles, and more.
Puzzling Intrigue. Epic Adventure. Cut-throat competition. When a quiet introvert and gifted tinkerer, Michael McGillicuddy, is invited to participate in the annual race organized by a secret society called the Order of the Blue Cloak, he forces himself to take a chance. Participation in this year’s race represents a dual opportunity: To honor his father’s legacy, and to win a prize sufficient to pay taxes on his mother’s land to avoid foreclosure.The action-packed adventure that follows features a vibrant cast of characters, and includes some of the brightest minds and most unscrupulous characters 1895 Europe has to offer, including a Luxembourgish railroad baron, a middle-eastern mystic, a lone-wolf bounty hunter, a British female spy and a Dutch female alchemist. A devious circus ringmaster, and his equally devious crew, including a strong-man with a mechanical arm and a ruthless female enforcer with a chip on her shoulder and a penchant for poison, provide the main antagonistic forces.Follow the racers over land, sea and air, from London’s outskirts all the way to Paris, as they risk life and limb to embark on a scavenger hunt-style race with few, but important, rules. The winner of this year’s race will be the first to solve all the milestone puzzles and arrive at the finish with a complete and matching set of milestone tokens. Along the way, Michael will encounter intellectual challenges, fantastical creatures, games you’ve never heard of, physical peril, sabotage, betrayal, love, heartbreak, and even a touch of magic, all while discovering himself and a newfound taste for adventure.But as a novice among experts, and with the odds so strongly stacked against him, can Michael possibly have what it takes?
For those who haven’t seen the Wacky Races cartoon, it was a group of cars all racing to different locations, trying to earn the title of World’s Wackiest Racer. Each car was so unique and different, you often wondered how they were able to run, but then it was a cartoon so maybe you didn’t. The race that Michael McGillicuddy is part of has three legs: by land, by sea, by air. Each contestant must come up with his or her own transportation for each leg of the race sometimes to hilarious visuals. One character in particular decides that a monocycle (not a unicycle) is his preferred choice of race vehicle for the land part. I can’t imagine racing in that, but he ends up doing ok in that part so perhaps I am wrong.
In this book, there is no wondering who the main villains are that Michael needs to watch out for. They are clearly laid out and identified for you; however, there are others in the race that aren’t necessarily angels and make you wonder what type of mischief they may cause. Because after all this is the type of race where you would definitely want to sabotage others – that is, if your personality leaned more toward the villain side than hero side. Although there is clearly villainy and mischief at work during the race, there were times I would have gladly taken even more – something like “I’m going to make you slip on oil so that you spin out of control” type of mischief that can delay one of your favorites in the race.
The characters were all very well done and entertaining to read. When called for most of them also worked really well together considering they were all competitors at the start of the race. But, I was really impressed that all of them had their time to shine and each brought something to the table. I remember thinking while reading that I wanted more of Kamal because I felt like he was getting left out, when very shortly after a situation or puzzle arose that called for his skills to be used. The only thing I didn’t quite know how to take is how much they relied on Michael during puzzle time, which seemed to be a lot. Too much, sometimes. Yes, other characters were used for puzzles, but since they are all in this highly competitive race I would have expected more folks voice their thoughts and opinions at times. An example, is when they were in a shop in Paris. Three of the group just held back letting the others figure things out. Maybe you can’t have them all be up front and center in the book, but it felt odd that these competitors were just ‘hangin’ at times.
Overall, this is a great read and just a lot of fun. It has a terrific cast of characters that are so diverse and different that you can’t help but cheer on at least one during the race. At the end, it also sets up nicely for the next book in the series, which I look forward to reading.