I have been as guilty as the next person when it comes to over-using the roller-coaster metaphor. So there is no reason that I shouldn’t do it again. Ticker by Lisa Mantchev is exactly the kind of book that deserves the roller-coaster metaphor. The plot unwinds at a break-neck piece and Ms. Mantchev throws the reader right into a world that is dizzyingly complex and full of details.
Penelope “Penny” Farthing (wonderful name) is a sixteen-year old girl whose parents have been kidnapped, their factory blown to bits, and the doctor who implanted her clock-work heart, which she must wind once a day to stay alive, is a wanted murderer. That’s just the first few pages.
After that Penny and her brother Nic, and Penny’s friends Marcus and Violet, a baker with the words BAKE CAKE tattooed on her hands, receive a message demanding confidential information in exchange for the Farthing’s lives. Throw in Marcus, a dashing young military officer who strikes Penny’s fancy, a medium who uses machines to speak with the dead, steam-powered horses, mechanical butterflies and flying carriages, along with dozens of plot twists, and you begin to get an idea of what Ticker is like. Only an idea, though, because Ms. Mantchev crams loads and loads of more detail in, and also manages to make Penny winning and charming and smart as you could possibly want.
What makes it all so winning is that despite all of the countless invention, and endless detail, and plot twist and turns, the story still manages to be the center of the book, and it’s a good story. Penny is more than just a winning heroine. Her back-story is touching and believable, and adds depth and nuance. As I said earlier, Penny is the star of the book, and rightly so, but Violet comes in s close second. Most of the men fill their roles, but can’t begin to compare with the women when it comes to being interesting.
It’s a little complaint. I barely noticed, because I was so wrapped up in Ms. Mantchev’s world and story that I didn’t really want it to end, even as I had to force myself to slow down so that I could savor all of the little things that made this book so good. In this age of huge books Ms. Mantchev does all this in fewer than three hundred pages. Admirable, but if she decides to return to Penny and her world again, I just might like to see her stretch it out a bit.
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