Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms, by Lissa Evans, for Timeslip Tuesday

Sometimes to say a book has an element of time travel in it is to spoil it...sometimes less, sometimes more. But in my quest to review every time travel book for children ever written, I forge on ahead, regardless. Sorry for any inconvenience.

So today's Timeslip Tuesday book is Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms, by Lissa Evans (Sterling Children's Books, April 3, 2012, middle grade, 272 pages). It starts with a very small boy, Stuart Horton (aka S. Horton, which is unfortunate), being forcibly moved by his parents from the town of his youth to his father's childhood home. He is not happy. The snoopy triplet girls next door (April, May, and June), don't help.

What does help, however, in a life-change, adventure-filled way, is Stuart's discovery that his great-uncle Tony was a great magician (of the stage variety sort), who disappeared shortly after World War II. His workshop, with all the miraculous mechanisms of the title, was never found.

But his uncle left a string of clues to its whereabouts...and Stuart begins to follow them, with the help of triplet April...and it's a hunt that takes the two of them deep into the town's history, and pits them against an opponent desperate to claim Uncle Tony's magic for her own.

And (this is the spoilery time travel part), there's time travel at the end, involving a quick glimpse of 19th-century stage magic. But I won't say anything else about that. It is a plot device, an interesting and exciting one that Zings with great Zing, but it is not Deep time travel, of the sort where the time travel is the gateway to much development of story and character.

Up until the time travel bit, there's nothing that couldn't happen in real life (although mostly it doesn't). It's the sort of fun, puzzle-solving mystery/adventure that is diverting as all get out to read about (in particular, I really appreciated how place dependent it was--it's the sort of book with a Useful black and white map on its boards), and the growing friendship between Stuart and April was very nicely done.

Three of us enjoyed it (both my 12 year old and my husband read and liked it lots), and I recommend it without reservation (especially to any kid fascinated by magic). My youngest son (9 years old) was the only one not taken with it--he stopped reading halfway through, because he had just read Hugo Cabret, and thought that this one "didn't reveal itself" the way Hugo did--meaning that in Horten's story, Horten can't gradually reveal things the way Hugo, who knows things the reader doesn't, can. So the straightforward progression of the mystery seemed unsatisfactory. Each to his own.

The sequel, Horten's Incredible Illusions, just came out...it is waiting for me downstairs, and I am looking forward to it!


  1. Oh, this one is in my TBR pile--I'm moving it to the top! I especially love that the endpaper map is useful. And the insightful comment from your son!

  2. Wonderful review of a book I read and adored earlier this year. Fantastic illustrations and just a really nice story. I was taken with Horton and with April (like all the triplets, actually). Horton's father was also a big hit with me. He was quirky and eccentric and gave me a chuckle or two. Didn't realize the sequel was out. May have to give in to the temptation to go pick that up today.

  3. Your ability to share Information is a talent and very appreciated.Thanks for another Timely Post.

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  4. I had been wanting to read this one solely for the title and the cover. After reading your review I want to read this even more. Sounds like one the kids I nanny for would enjoy as well. Thanks!


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