So, is SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB any good? Here's what the reviewers said:
“Twelve-year-old Edward Sullivan’s eccentric family is driving him up the wall in Samphire’s delightful fantasy debut, set on Mars in an alternate 1816. Edward’s father is one of the greatest scientists of British Mars, responsible for adapting the technology taken from the ancient tombs of now-extinct Martian dragons. He’s developed robot servants, self-propelled carriages, and a water abacus capable of solving scientific problems faster than any human. However, the man is completely oblivious to the outside world, including the social scheming of Edward’s mother and the recklessness of Edward’s nine-year-old sister, Parthenia. Edward decides that he must lay aside his plans of becoming a spy and adventurer—he needs to protect his family from their own lack of survival instincts. Samphire’s swashbuckling tale is both a pitch-perfect pastiche of a Victorian serial and a well-rounded, three-dimensional story of a boy learning that the world is more complicated than he thought. Abundant humor, intricate worldbuilding details, and precisely timed slapstick and mayhem mesh as neatly as the gears and levers of the water abacus, producing a gorgeously articulated clockwork of a novel.”
“What, ho! This classic boys’ adventure on Mars has dastardly villains, dizzying feats of derring-do, and dragons.
“Twelve-year-old Edward knows he’s the mainstay of his family. Absent-minded Papa thinks only of his inventions, Mama and sister Jane are bubble-headed social climbers, Olivia is a priss, and bratty little Putty follows Edward about, stealing his copies of Thrilling Martian Tales and having the absolute gall to be the clever one. Luckily Edward’s here to be the man of the house, especially when useless Cousin Freddie turns up on a busted cycle-copter. Why is Freddie acting so shifty? Why won’t he explain his absence from Oxford (on Earth!) instead of being a botheration at Edward’s crannybug-infested Martian home? Why does he want to see Papa’s water abacus? And why does his arrival immediately precede a series of home invasions by a nasty lordling and a metal-faced assassin? Samphire is clearly having the time of his life with this yarn, leavening character types with emotional honesty. It’s true Putty has most of the cleverness, Olivia the diplomacy, and Freddie the swashbuckling—while Edward gets knocked unconscious three times—but it will take all of them to save their family.
“A bit Tom Swift–meets–early Heinlein (though without most of the -isms of those dated classics), joyfully modernizing space pulp for a new audience. (Science fiction/steampunk. 10-12)”
School Library Journal
Gr – 4-6 Twelve-year-old Edward Sullivan wishes his life on 19th-century British Mars were more like the adventures he reads about in his Thrilling Martian Tales magazine. Sadly, it’s school break and instead of being off with his friend Matthew Harrison, he’s staying home trying to keep his family on track. His father is a brilliant yet absent-minded mechanician, and his mother’s main concern is gaining back the family status she lost when her own father lost the family fortune. When dim-witted cousin Freddie literally comes crashing down, Edward wonders how much worse things can get, but before he knows it, he is tangled up in a madcap adventure with even more action than his magazines. It seems that Edward’s father’s latest invention, the water abacus, is thought to be the key to perhaps one of the last of the great dragon tombs of Mars. In the past, it was these tombs that held the wonderful Martian technology that enabled British Mars to thrive—and made the tomb explorers rich. There are many who want to use the water abacus for their own purposes, which leads to fights, kidnappings, attempted murder, and a great chase. All of this is set in a perfectly delightful steampunk and fantasy world complete with clockwork automatic servants, dragon paths, and spaceships. Deeper topics of race relations and colonization are deftly explored through the political unrest among the British, the French, and the Martians.
VERDICT A smart addition for middle grade collections; be prepared to purchase planned sequels.–Stacy Dillon, LREI, New York City
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
Readers might as well check all disbelief at the door and just embrace this look at a nineteenth-century British Mars that has solid hints of steampunk and features dangers aplenty to excite a kid hooked on spy tales. Such a kid is twelve-year-old Edward, who has been waiting his whole life for something like what he reads in Thrilling Martian Tales. Adventure comes in a rush, as a kidnapping, a much-desired water abacus, a metal assassin, and a mysterious cousin who may be a good guy, bad guy, or just bumbling fool all fall into Edward’s lap (and into the lap of his gender-defying little sister who aids him more than he’ll ever admit). Indeed, it quickly becomes clear that to save their family, Edward will need the skills of his more clever younger sister, his more socially graceful older sister, and his more adept cousin, even if he wishes he could be a solo hero like in the stories. The dialogue is snappy, and the characterization is historically plausible while still giving room for the characters to react to being on another planet. Science fiction meets classic adventure tales in this quirky novel, and it’s a real treat to know that it’s the first in an intended series. Fans of Reeve’s Larklight (BCCB 2/07) will embrace the premise, and readers will happily return for the next entry to see what happens next on Mars.
In this adventure-packed novel set on Mars in 1816, the author effectually blends reality and fantasy. Although similar to earth and mirroring society at that time, Mars is populated by fantastical creatures such as bushbears, crannybugs, and clocklike robo-servants that power up at night. The hunting metal tripods are absolutely terrifying. This novel is also spiced with exciting illustrations and plenty of humor—visualize an automatic chamber pot. However, it is the responsible Edward, captivated by his Thrilling Martian Tales magazine and his ingenious sister Putty, who is truly memorable. Short, action-filled chapters and a satisfying denouement will have readers clamoring for the next installment.