Reviews for Nine Pound Hammer : The Clockwork Dark, Book 1
Booklist Reviews 2009 May #2
"If today's readers still possess a twinkle of wonder for the step-right-up days of sideshow hucksterism, Bemis' debut will shock and amaze them (or, rather, SHOCK! and AMAZE!). The rollicking plot follows 12-year-old orphan Ray as he abandons his sister so that she will have a better chance of being adopted. Ray takes up with Cornelius T. Carter's Mystifying Medicine Show and Tabernacle of Tachycardial Talent, a troupe of snake-oil salesmen whose various performing abilities have supernatural origin. Notable among them is a towering strongman named Conker, who happens to be the legendary John Henry's son. And that steam-powered hammer John Henry defeated? It's just a myth to cover up the truth: Henry defeated a demonic machine created by an evil entity known only as "the Gog." Anyone who pays attention will quickly guess the Gog's alternate identity, but that won't detract from the steampunk collision of heroes, mermaids, pirates, and good old-fashioned Americana. Fans need only bide their time until the second book in the Clockwork Dark series arrives." Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2010 Spring
Ray, an orphan, winds up on a train peopled with traveling medicine show performers. He quickly learns the show is just cover; they're all determined to destroy the evil Gog. What distinguishes this fast-paced adventure is the nineteenth-century rural American setting, where both characters and circumstances are deeply influenced by regional folklore and the "hoodoo" traditions of the Deep South. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2009 July #2
What's a brother to do? It occurs to 12-year-old Ray that his younger sister will have a better chance at adoption if he disappears from the orphan train that is taking them to good homes. All he takes is the special stone left by his father. Ray connects with a traveling medicine show, where, despite the many strange personalities, he feels at home. It is after leaving them that he discovers possible links between some in the show, his father's disappearance and a force of evil seeking dominance. Set in the period after the Civil War, this first in a series provides a compelling fantasy using the tall tales of the American South and frontier. The early parts of the novel move slowly as all of the characters--including John Henry's son--and their connections are introduced. However, as Ray becomes more determined to stop the man he thinks killed his father, the pace accelerates. Bemis successfully manages the large cast and achieves a balance between the tenor of the historical period and the tall-tale tone of the story. (Fantasy. 10-14) Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Publishers Weekly Annex Reviews
Bemis, in his debut novel, first in the Clockwork Dark series, attempts to spin classic American tall tales into an epic historical adventure, but undercuts the solid setting and action sequences with some poor character choices and predictable twists. Ray, an orphan being taken south for adoption, jumps the train, thinking his sister will have a better chance of finding a family without him. His adventures in the wilderness bring him to a medicine show traveling on a train called the Ballyhoo. The assorted members of the show have unusual powers, and as Ray talks to them, he learns about the heroic Ramblers and their fight against the mysterious Gog. Encounters with pirates, a siren and a fearsome mechanical beast called the Hoarhound all enliven the book, and the climactic battle is engrossing and well-choreographed, but there's little new in the story itself. Every twist--from the inevitable betrayal to the revelation of the Gog's identity to the heroic sacrifice--is telegraphed, and along with some awkward racial stereotypes, the action sequences are not enough to sustain the story. Ages 9--12. (Aug.) [Page ]. Copyright 2014 PWxyz LLC
School Library Journal Reviews 2009 October
Gr 6-9--Bemis's debut novel presents a unique way of creating fantasy by drawing on the themes and archetypes of Southern folklore and American legend. In place of knights and dragons are hoodoo conjurers, pirate queens, and sirens. Twelve-year-old orphan Ray Cobb has a lodestone his father gave him that is pulling him to the South from rural Maine. He jumps from an orphan train and connects with the Ballyhoo, a train that houses a medicine show with a blind sharpshooter, a snake dancer, a fire-eater, and a sword swallower. Ray learns that his father was (and perhaps still is) Li'l Bill, a Rambler who helped John Henry win the competition with the steam engine. Ramblers, like knights of old, are protectors. Their evil adversary, known as the Gog, is a captain of industry--a cold and calculating champion of the machine who desires dominion. The medicine show is hiding the last of the mythical Swamp Sirens from him as he wants her for her ability to lure people so he can feed his evil machine with ruined souls. As the Gog rebuilds an even more monstrous machine than the one John Henry destroyed, a new generation of Rambler heroes, including Ray, takes up the fight of defending the wilderness. While Bemis's setup is fascinating, the novel is as overblown as any tall tale. The convoluted plot is difficult to unravel, and the connection with John Henry and his hammer not clear for the better part of the book.--Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME [Page 120]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2010 January
Gr 4-7--John Claude Bemis's debut novel (Random, 2009) draws on Southern folklore and American tall tales to present the story of Ray and his younger sister who ride an Orphan Train south from Maine. Ray thinks his sister might fare better alone, so he jumps from the train and sets off on his own. He meets up with an eclectic group of performers in a medicine show. Ray realizes that this troupe is running from an evil entity--the Gog--who wants to capture the Siren, a mermaid-like creature whose voice mesmerizes all who hear it. It's never made clear how the Siren will help the Gog build a machine, better than the one John Henry destroyed, that will allow the Gog to spread darkness throughout the world. While the book is overly long and somewhat difficult to follow, narrator John Mayer is marvelous, infusing the sharply drawn characters with distinct personalities and drawing listeners into the tale. There are so many dangling plot lines, that there is no satisfying conclusion.--Joan Kindig, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA [Page 60]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
VOYA Reviews 2009 December
At only twelve years of age, Ray and his little sister Sally speed toward their uncertain future on an orphan train. Ray has only his father's lodestone to provide a source of direction as this magical adventure unfolds. After jumping off the train at the encouragement of Mister G. Octavius Grevol, he decides to strike out on his own, leaving his sister a better chance of being adopted alone. His travels lead him to fantastic woodland encounters, a fearsome ship of pirates, and work on a medicine show train featuring sideshow performers and an enchanting siren. He encounters many amazing and frightening people, animals, and magical potions during his daytime travels, while his nightmares give him glimpses of the future, including the threat to his world by the evil Gog and his mechanical monster hound. He learns of the brave power of the Ramblers, especially that of the once mighty John Henry and his nine-pound hammer as well as his own father's heroic role in the last attempt to defeat the Gog. This rich epic fantasy draws from the roots of American and African American folklore. It engages readers and captivates them while providing exciting fodder for their imagination. It is original and fresh and definitely leaves the reader on edge waiting for the next installment in The Clockwork Dark series. Middle graders with any inclination toward fantasy or magical realism can be directed toward this one.--Ava Ehde 4Q 4P M J Copyright 2009 Voya Reviews.