Book Review: The Tombs
Published By: HarperTeen
Publication Date: February 20, 2018
Page Count: 448
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
Young Adult - Historical Fantasy
Avery Kohl hasn't always lived in the rough section of New York City as she struggled to help her father make ends meet. Once upon a time she had a mother and a beautiful home. She could attend school and dream of a future that wasn't restricted by how much money she could make at her welding job. Everything changed the night the men came to take her mother away to the notorious asylum, The Tombs. Avery doesn't want to believe that her mother was crazy, but what other explanation could there possibly be?
Avery begins to realize that perhaps her mother wasn't having hallucinations, but maybe she actually had an otherworldly talent. As visions and troubling dreams swirl in Avery's mind, she begins to worry that she is suffering from the same affliction that landed her mother in The Tombs. This moment begins a trajectory for Avery that will lead her down a dark path of family secrets, powerful magic, and a sinister plot to control all those with extraordinary talents.
New York City hasn't always been a shining beacon. In Avery's world of the late 1800's, New York is dirty, dark, and terrifying. Sure, the upper crust doesn't always see the shadows lurking and they choose to ignore the poor in the shabbier parts of town, but Avery no longer walks among the middle and upper classes. Her version of New York is gloomier and full of apprehension. She is struggling to find her place in the world while trying to figure out how to control the strange gift that she has inherited from her mother. To make matters worse, she often feels alone in her quest for answers. Her father, an injured Union veteran, spends his days tinkering with mechanical contraptions and making false limbs for soldiers who lost theirs in the War Between the States. If he's not tinkering, he's lost in the bottom of a bottle. Avery takes matters into her own hands and visits her mother in The Tombs, where she learns how truly terrifying life can be when others want to control you.
Avery begins a quest to understand her power better and to seek a way to liberate her mother. Alongside her is her best friend, Khan, a former slave, and a group of helpful Romani. Avery will have to determine how strong she can be in the face of evil and corruption.
Throughout the novel, the group of Romani are referred to using a term that would have been commonplace in 1882, but made me uncomfortable using in my review as it's a racial slur with some pretty harsh negative connotations. The author does explain the choice to use this term in her author's note, but it still made me uncomfortable. This issue is a dilemma for historical fiction writers as they strive to be historically accurate while remaining sensitive to those same groups of people in the present.
I was drawn to this intriguing world that Schaumberg has created that is littered with equal parts history and fantasy. Her descriptions paint such vivid pictures that I could see 1882 NYC in my mind. I loved walking the streets with Avery and watching as she learned to navigate her new and exciting powers.
My one negative reaction to this (aside from the issue mentioned earlier) was the romance. It fell flat for me. I am not a fan of love triangles, in general, but this one felt like both options were doomed from the start.
One Last Gripe: I wanted to know more about the powers others in the novel possessed.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: The setting
First Sentence: This must be how madness begins.
Favorite Character: Avery
Least Favorite Character: The Doctor
New York, 1882. A dark, forbidding city, and no place for a girl with unexplainable powers.
Sixteen-year-old Avery Kohl pines for the life she had before her mother was taken. She fears the mysterious men in crow masks who locked her mother in the Tombs asylum for being able to see what others couldn’t. Avery denies the signs in herself, focusing instead on her shifts at the ironworks factory and keeping her inventor father out of trouble. Other than secondhand tales of adventure from her best friend, Khan, an ex-slave, and caring for her falcon, Seraphine, Avery spends her days struggling to survive.
Like her mother’s, Avery’s powers refuse to be contained. When she causes a bizarre explosion at the factory, she has no choice but to run from her lies, straight into the darkest corners of the city. Avery must embrace her abilities and learn to wield their power—or join her mother in the cavernous horrors of the Tombs. And the Tombs has secrets of its own: strange experiments are being performed on “patients”…and no one knows why.