Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Tripods Attack!

At the end of his article on Catholic fiction for InsideCatholic, Todd Aglialoro promoted two new YA novels from Sophia Inst. Press. One is sort of "Sweet Valley High" from a mordant, Catholic perspective; and the other is Chestertonian steampunk. Having spent my adolescence hiding (successfully) from Sweet Valley High and (unsuccessfully) from its more genteel, Newberry-stamped cousins, the ones they make you read in school, I chose the steampunk novel as my sample of Sophia's new project. My love of fantasy makes me biased, but I think that the best sort of niche fiction is simply too different to appeal to the mass market, rather than being a Catholic imitation of something that already exists.

So I read the book, probably too quickly, for it was not aimed at twenty-something women but at 9 to 14 year-old boys. However, I did my best to discern whether it would please its target audience, and I decided that it ought to. I gave it four stars on Amazon, and the following review:

Sophia attacks the YA market! - September 3, 2008

I think the 9 year-old boy's review says it best:

"I LOVED The Tripods Attack because there was lots of violence. I liked how it had sadness in the end, like most of the books I read. Finally, I loved how they had the flame thrower and the .45 colt."

The Tripods Attack! is wonderfully bloodcurdling and gruesome, although its dizzy Victorian setting and many in-jokes keep it from getting too dark. Steampunk is a rather Chestertonian genre to begin with, and The Tripods Attack! resembles Chesterton's own fiction in some ways. It helps that Father Brown is a character in it, as well as Chesterton himself and a young HG Wells. But there are other characters as well: the girl "with hair as red as a Welsh sunset" that Chesterton dreams of, who is really a secret agent; and the natty and evil Doctor, who proves remarkably hard to gt rid of. The end of the book is the perfect setup for the next volume, which for all I know has not even been written yet.

This book is full of action - high marks for a scene on a runaway train and for an underground cat-and-mouse chase that is almost worthy of "Alien" - and its fractured fantasy world is vividly described. The writing is always solid and often clever. The messages do stick out, as one reviewer said, but they are never allowed to get pointier than the deadly Martian fangs or the stilettos wielded by Chesterton's rogue secret agent mother. (Did I mention that this book is surreal?) Father Brown is GKC's Father Brown, and he *does* launch into the same theological expositions. McNichol could afford to be less on-the-nose next time... however, the book *works*, and it knows that even though it is a tribute to Chesterton published by a small Catholic press, it is a story, nothing more - and nothing less. Sophia took a real risk in publishing fiction for once, and I hope it pays off for them. I should think that The Tripods Attack! will be most compelling for boys from 10-14, but only an adult reader will catch all the cameos: HG Wells, CS Lewis's Ransom, even Bartleby the scrivener!


Enbrethiliel said...


Steampunk, aye?

It's amazing how much clearer the world becomes after a set of scattered concepts can be gathered into a neat bundle tied with just the right name. =D

Indeed, it's inspiring enough to spend the few weeks I have left before NaNoWriMo studying steam power, if you take my meaning . . .

Meredith said...

English really does have a word for everything...

Quid est "NaNoWriMo"?

Enbrethiliel said...


It's "National Novel Writing Month"!

The challenge is to write a 50,000-word (if I remember correctly) novel in thirty days or less. I tried last year and didn't get past a thousand words . . . maybe because I didn't have a plot! =P

There's a Web site you can visit:

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

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