The Broken Lands by Kate Milford.
Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Boston, 2012.

It took a bit of time for me to get into this book. It was rambling, but also teasing, so I kept reading, wanting to know if those intriguing bits would develop. Once interest sparked, there was a fantastic display.

There is a fun cast of characters. Sam (a young gambler), looking for a momentous opportunity, meets Jin (a Chinese creator of fireworks) and immediately pursues a friendship with her. Supporting characters include roamers with secretive pasts (2 musicians and another gambler), pillars of New York society (a saloon owner and a mob personality and a black servant woman), and the writer Ambrose Bierce. Jin has an "uncle" who trains her, and two people-like monsters come to New York to claim the city for someone the devil rejected, rumor has it. The pillars (protectors of the city) are destroyed or coerced, all but one. She, Susannah, must come up with new pillars in a pinch.

It seems that fate is an issue, things falling into place perfectly. A number of the characters prove to be more than they seem. There are some strange and awesome elements. The fireworks, of course, are front and center. Fireworks, alchemy, and talismans combined. Jin uses an ancient, traditional book with coded language for her concoctions. For those who can read it at all, the meaning changes according to the reader. The author says she feels this way about her own book. A fabulous concept that I am glad she encourages. Sam's game playing and the new-to-town gambler, who challenges him and then gives him pointers, are a nice show. Sam plays an incredible match of a fascinating game to block and stall the villians. Santine is something like Magic the Gathering with the addition of powerful saints. A game in which new rules can be created by the daring. The stakes are a little like playing the devil, but also reminiscent of Ron Weasley's game of Wizard's Chess from Harry Potter. In setting the stage, Civil War soldiers are hanging about. It has been 10 years since the war ended, with no healing of the country. Ambrose is representative of this, as well as a black wandering soldier/musician and others that recognize him. I kept waiting to see if more would develop with the musicians, but not really. The construction of the Brooklyn Bridge is also part of the setting. There are snatches of history, but I somehow wanted more to do with it. I would have liked more participation by the adults as well.

Sam's gentleness and compassion with Jin are striking. She, too, has a past that is gradually coaxed from her. Her past may be a key to why she is the most important in stopping the villains.

related-supernatural, good vs evil, demons, orphans, Coney Island, New York history, 19th century, Brooklyn Bridge
RL=6th and up

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