YA Fantasy Review: ‘The Nine Pound Hammer’ by John Claude Bemis

The Nine Pound Hammer (The Clockwork Dark, #1)Young Ray is on a train bound for the deep south in hopes of being adopted along with his sister. After meeting with the wealthy benefactor who so kindly let orphans ride his train Ray makes the well thought out decision to jump of the train.

At night.

In the woods.

With no food, means of shelter, or knowledge of the land.

It’s not me kid, its you.

I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did, though it wasn’t something to be thrown out completely. As a kids book it just may work. The problem is I can’t tell you, been a few years since I read a young adult book as a young adult. As a read for the adult reader though, just a bit rough. A lot of repetition in case one forgets the ultimate goal, who the bad guy is, or what the various people do in the medicine show.

Oh ya, medicine show. The basics, you shall be wanting to know the basics so you can make up your mind on your own. Ray, after a bit of time in a forest with a few magical aspects, is saved by a few traveling teens that belong to a medicine show that is a bit more than it seems. After learning the ropes, seeing the acts, and riding around a bit he starts to learn the secrets. The train is hiding a siren, which is being pursued by the mysterious GOG. Leader of the medicine show, one Peg-Legged Nell, used to be a ‘rambler,’ which while never explained are basically magical people who are larger than life. The best known example of a rambler? John Henry, whose death defeating the Gog’s machine was covered up with a story about a steam hammer.

Are people outside of the U.S. even familiar with these tall tales? How far have this spread? These are things I wonder about at night.

Fantasy based on a slice of Americana is a cool concept. And a traveling medicine show is basically a carnival by another name; always a good start. The book has a diverse cast and makes allusions to the difficulties presented in the post war south; but a social issues book it isn’t and no racial tension is ever present at the shows. My favorite thing about the book was the way the travelers worked together; no one character ever was more important than another and they had to work together throughout. There was a bit of video game puzzle going on, as each situation required a specific person to just do their thing, but it mostly worked.

There, I have said something nice. Now to what bugged me as per the usual agreement.

Characters with zero consistency. There is a blood thirsty pirate who we first hear off because she chains someone to a poisons tree; and first see when she is fully ready to kill a couple of kids. Her crew obviously fears her. We got potential! We have, perhaps, a case of the enemy of my enemy? No, personality swap, now she is all kinds of friendly and keeps her word and helps out the lovable rascals.   Aww. The Pirate wasn’t the only one, only the most egregious. Shifting personalities were the norm in this one.

How about repetition and redundancy? You will hear the same things a lot. Over and over. And then again. In a redundant fashion.  The GOG, the pitch black train, the nine pound hammer, the GOG, rambler, nine pound hammer, the GOG…

Perhaps the thing that put me off the most is that the plot mostly moves forward solely by idiotic decisions made by the various characters. From jumping off a train to leaving the safety of the group almost nothing would happen if people had at any point in the tale acted rationally. And not just irrationally, but completely unbelievably. The final showdown came from two separate characters acting like complete idiots.

Toss in a too long final battle and really the book was something of a mess with good intentions.

3 stars




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