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Natalie Crawford reviews Haywired, a 'Steampunk Fairytale' by Alex Keller

Reading this book, I felt remarkably underdressed. I wanted to be sat in a wing-back chair, maybe wearing a cape and chugging on a bubble pipe. I have the chair, but sadly not the whimsical ensemble to match. I find pretending to be someone else rather therapeutic and fun – which is exactly how I felt stepping into the world of Ludwig von Guggenstein.

This rather unremarkable boy has something of an unconventional life, living with his eccentric father in a castle rattling with secrets. After a fatal farming accident, caused by a contraption developed in the Guggenstein household, Ludwig and his father become social outcasts – blamed for the demise of poor Mr Pewsnitt. It is then that those secrets in dark corners come to Ludwig’s attention and the hideous folds of truth begin to unfurl. 

Haywired begins as a simple runaway adventure but before long, terror sets in as Ludwig and his cast of ramshackle unlikelies are chased by ‘ghoulish machines’. The reader is gripped throughout as the crew attempt to escape and save not only their own lives, but those of people across other enchantingly captured lands. 

The story maybe fairly straight forward on the surface, but intrigue and suspicion pour from the pages thanks to rich characterisation. There is also a dark hopelessness as the story weaves on, a sense of imminent foreboding caused by an all too familiar hand. Even though the subject matter maybe somewhat fantastical, there is a solid reality to this world, a physical quality that makes it unnerving. 

But, it is not all fight-or-flight, heavy duty drama, there is definitely a light thread running through; an essence of fun (hence the need for the outfit) necessary to make it enticing for the intended youth market. But the levels of intrigue in Keller’s ideas make it just as enjoyable for us slightly older folk. 

I am excited to find out what happens to his characters next, and just what mesmerising spin Alex Keller will take us on in future incarnations. If the suspiciously ‘missing’ pieces of back story are not enough to have you demanding more, the ending certainly will. If you are anything like me, you will be cursing Alex Keller for not having the sequel ready to read now!

Haywired will be published in September by Mogzilla Books.

Read more of Natalie's book and film reviews, and some teachers' notes for Haywired, on  The Writer Side of Life

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