- Kids Fiction
- The Atomic Weight of Secrets, or The Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black (The Young Inventors Guild #1)
The Atomic Weight of Secrets, or The Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black (The Young Inventors Guild #1)
The Men in Black are literally dressed in black, but in this world, that means way more than black trousers and tops; it means black inner-tubes, feathered bonnets, velvet capes, lace ruffs, fluffy ear muffs and fur boots. This whimsical touchthat each man in black is distinguishable from every other by some strange quirk of clothingadds humor, but also a sense of the unreal. It seems impossible that such oddly-dressed, silent men could have so much power, yet they have taken and hidden the childrens parents (perhaps keeping them working on a secret scientific project), and have placed the children in the hands of strangers.
What the Men in Black may or may not be counting on is that the children are scientists themselves, engineers and chemists and inventors. Although all five are from very different worlds, after they are thrust together and faced with a common enemy, they learn to work together and together, they invent something remarkable they could none have them invented on their own.
The book is written in a slightly old-fashioned style that suits its setting (the beginning of the twentieth century), and there were passages where the writing truly soared. This is a story that could only be told from multiple perspectives, and yet the hopping from one childs story to another to another did sometimes keep the reader at an emotional distance. The book starts a bit slowly, but truly hits its stride in the last third, when all the stories come together into a whole and the children work as one force to outwit those forces opposing them. The threads left untied at the end are of the ooh, I wonder what happens next variety (so different from the argh, what just happened kind of ending). Its an ambitious and complex story -- and if it does not quite live up to its promise, neither does it disappoint.
The design is very appealing as well (I particularly loved the gears-and-compasses font used in the chapter headings) and the book is as satisfying to look at as it is to read. The Atomic Weight of Secrets is very likely to appeal to those who loved The Mysterious Benedict Society (which is in some ways, a very similar book), and I for one am looking forward to the next installment.
Every chapter title begins with a title and then an alternative title, just like book does. Part of me thinks that using this device in modern books is a bit pompous, but another part thinks that it's really awesome, so... Anyway, this method does work pretty well, given the historical fiction setting (late nineteenth century). Watch out for the cameo by some historical figures; it was clever and a bit unexpected.
The only weakness of the book is the nebulousness of the forces of evil. Nothing is really resolved or figured out at the end of the novel. Since this is the first in the series, this does not necessarily doom the book. The men in black are figures of menace (maybe?) throughout the book, but only sort of. There is a limit to how menacing people can be while dressed thus:
"Actually, there were two waiting carriages, one driven by a man wearing dark glasses, a black cape, and a bullfighter's hat that appeared to have actual horns coming out of either side, the other by a driver who seemed to be so short that he's have a hard time seeing over the knee guard on the coachman's seat. That said, his hat was so tall it seemed it would stretch higher than the man himself, is they were placed side by side. Like his fluffy jumper and ballooning trousers, the hat was black. His glasses, or rather goggles, were black, too." (58)
The Atomic Weight of Secrets is wonderfully written and a joy to read. It's in stores and libraries now, so look for it! I will be waiting impatiently for book two.