Monday, October 28, 2013

The Wells Bequest, by Polly Shulman

I read Polly Shulman's The Grimm Legacy a while back and intended to blog about it but never got around to it. Shame on me. When I found out about The Wells Bequest, I got really excited: another chance to visit the New York Circulating Material Repository!

This is one of those fantasy locations, like Hogswarts, Narnia, and the Night Circus, that I wish with every fibre of my being were real. What is the New York Circulating Material Repository? Shulman starts with New York--inherently cool. Adds a library--also inherently cool, and multiplied by the New York factor already gives me shivers. Then Shulman makes it a place where you don't borrow books, you borrow objects: like a niddy noddy, or a snarling iron, or a krummhorn. Would you not already give up all your desserts for a year just to go to New York and see this place? But in Shulman's library you can also borrow more unrealistic things: a Mars rover, for example, or an automaton built by Leonardo daVinci. And Shulman makes everything exquisitely tactile and sensual--smells, textures, sounds--so you believe everything is absolutely real.

Then there's the Grimm Legacy. Items collected by the library that are right out of Grimm's Fairy Tales. Seven league boots. Magic mirrors. Flying carpets. Are you ready to give up your firstborn child yet? (You probably won't have to--they're more likely to take your sense of humour or your patience as collateral.)

Three guesses what's included in the Wells Bequest (and the first two don't count). (That's Wells as in H.G. Wells, in case you were wondering.) Yes, there's a time machine; yes it works; yes, the characters get to use it. And they visit New York in the past and meet Tesla and Mark Twain and prevent someone from getting their hands on a . . . (Leo just put his hand on my mouth to stop me from giving too much away.)

The setting for me is so compelling I almost don't need a plot, but Shulman has a great one anyway, fast -paced and exciting with lots of humour and a bit of romance. And I love the characters. Leo is super smart but not nearly as smart as the rest of his family. Jaya is entitled, irrepressible and impulsive and welcomes Leo into her magical world. It's not a character-driven novel by any means, but I enjoyed spending time with them. What's really refreshing is the way Shulman's characters reflect the actual ethnic make-up of New York (you don't notice how relentlessly white most YA characters are until you read a book where they aren't).

The Wells Legacy is great fun for anyone, but particularly for anyone who loves New York and loves classic science fiction and would give anything to visit a place where everything from all the old stories actually exists.

Warm pretzels from a street-side vendor in New York, with mustard.

For more Marvelous Middle-Grade reads, check out the lovely Shannon Messenger's blog every Monday.


  1. Thanks for bringing this title to my attention. The cover looks fantastic and your description only piqued my interest even more. Can't wait to find this one.

  2. I keep meaning to read these books and then...something...always gets in the way. I'm not sure what, but after hearing you describe the library (which already sounded temping from the blurbs) I really, really want to dive right in because this:

    "This is one of those fantasy locations, like Hogswarts, Narnia, and the Night Circus, that I wish with every fibre of my being were real. "

    Is something I can totally relate to :)