Steampunk fans, this one is for you! The Lost Kingdom by Matthew Kirby takes place in the American colonies before the French and Indian War (which is pre-Revolutionary War for those who drowsed through history). After Billy Bartram shows courage when his house is ransacked by thieves, his father invites him to join the American Philosophic Society, a secret group of scientists who are setting out on a mission to try to find the lost colony of Prince Madoc. The stories say that the Welsh Madoc brought his people over many years ago, and threads of rumor have continued to circulate about it. Ben Franklin has directed them to find the lost colony and convince them to join with the American colonists in fighting off the invading French armies.
To accomplish their mission, they take off in a vacuum airship that is equipped with many steampunk-y marvels. Unfortunately, their airship is being pursued by the French and a bear wolf, and is coveted by everyone they come across, including George Washington. With all the forces opposing them, they must draw together to accomplish their mission, but it seems that there is a traitor in their midst. Will they find the lost colony? And will they find out who they can trust before it’s too late?
I’m always up for a good steampunk adventure, and I liked that this one takes place in America rather than England. I really appreciated how Kirby deals with the prejudice against Native Americans in the book. Billy loves and respects his father, but it seems that his father has an unreasoning prejudice against Native Americans. Billy has to figure out how to walk the line between honoring his father and being true to himself—something that many young people are dealing with.
I also liked that Kirby uses several historical figures to people his story. I didn’t realize until the end (in the author’s notes) that Billy Bartram and his father were actually the botanists that they are portrayed as in the story. And, true to the story, they had a tense relationship in real life.
Put this book in the hands of kids who like a good adventure story, strong masculine heroes, steampunk, historical fiction, or stories of the colonial period.