Ever heard of an automaton robot? Me, neither! You'll learn all sorts of fun historical facts while reading this enchanting new novel from Angela Bell. #automaton #automatonrobots #clockmaker #inspy #inspirational #ChristianFiction #VictorianEngland #inventions #amreading #bestbookof2024

I receive free electronic advanced reader copies of these books through an arrangement between the publishers and NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion on NetGalley’s website. I only review books on my blog that I really love.

Ever heard of an automaton robot? Me, neither! You’ll learn all sorts of fun historical facts while reading this enchanting new novel from Angela Bell.

Ever heard of an automaton robot? Me, neither! You'll learn all sorts of fun historical facts while reading this enchanting new novel from Angela Bell. #automaton #automatonrobots #clockmaker #inspy #inspirational #ChristianFiction #VictorianEngland #inventions #amreading #bestbookof2024

What IS an Automaton Robot?

If you’re like me, you may have heard the word automaton before in reference to a person who goes through life without thinking or feeling. But you may never have heard about automaton robots before. When I first started reading Angela Bell’s whimsical debut novel, I thought I’d stumbled across one of the few books in the Christian market to use magical realism.

Instead of assuming, I decided to dig a little deeper, and what I discovered shocked me. Automaton robots have been around much longer than I had ever imagined! Two Spaniards, a clockmaker and an inventor, collaborated to create a mechanical monk in 1560. It still works today; you can see it at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

Another marvel, a silver swan created by John Joseph Merlin and James Cox in 1773, actually catches a fish. A Greek mathematician, Archytas of Tarentum, created a flying pigeon, the first automaton robot, as early as 350 B.C. So when the author asks us to suspend our disbelief about a mechanical flying owl, the reader doesn’t need to suspend her beliefs very far. The automaton robots featured in A Lady’s Guide to Marvels and Misadventures are all within the realm of possibility for the early Victorian Era. The whimsy and intrigue come straight from one of my new favorite author’s creative mind.

A Lady’s Guide to Marvels and Misadventure

By Angela Bell, Bethany House Publishers, February 27, 2024, 384 pages.

The Heroine

Just because Miss Clara Marie Stanton’s grandfather mutters to himself and has a flock of mechanical butterflies hovering around his head by no means indicates insanity.  And if her mother wears a live ermine around her neck, eats vegetarian, and rescues every downtrodden animal she encounters, it doesn’t mean she suffers from hereditary insanity. But all of London buys into Clara’s ex-fiancé’s lies about her family.

Mr. Rupert Forrester wants to force Clara to marry him to save her family from his malicious gossip and lies. If he can force her hand, he’ll save himself from his creditors before they can send him to debtor’s prison. He’ll stoop as low as necessary to get his hands on a letter proving Clara’s uncle died in an insane asylum, the final key in his nefarious plan.

The news of her uncle’s death killed Clara’s beloved grandmother, and her grandfather struggled with depression (not insanity) over their untimely deaths. And now Clara’s childhood friend (and former fiancé) has ruthlessly turned against her and her family. Her shoulders feel tired from bearing the burden of keeping everyone out of Bedlam, but she’ll do anything to save her family’s name.

When her grandfather disappears and invites her and his new apprentice on a multi-continental scavenger hunt, he inadvertently unleashes even more danger for Clara. But she can handle it on her own. She absolutely does not need the help of the utterly annoying, most likely unscrupulous, somewhat handsome apprentice her grandfather asks her to take along.

The Hero

Theodore Kingsley feels lower than the salt of the earth. All his life, his father assured him of his worthlessness. While trying to carry out the one task his noble father asks of him, Theodore botches the job. He feels responsible for the deaths of hundreds of his comrades at arms. Even God doesn’t want anything to do with him now.

Theodore has spent four long years roaming the world, becoming a vagabond tinker and clock repairman. When he arrives back in London, he ends up on Mr. Drosselmeyer’s doorsteps and finds himself thrust into the strangest apprenticeship of his life.

His employer, an absentminded genius, comes along with an endearing daughter with a penchant for collecting broken animals, paying no heed to the demands of society.  And Mr. Drosselmeyer’s granddaughter has more prickles than the napping hedgehog on the Stanton’s sofa. She instantly dislikes Theodore and threatens him with bodily harm if he won’t let her chase her disappearing grandfather alone.

But Mr. Drosselmeyer’s instructions explicitly state the two must travel together. A romp across Europe ensues as the unlikely trio (Mrs. Stanton comes along as chaperone) works to discover each clue and evade the villainous Mr. Forrester.

What I Loved About This Book

Angela Bell’s sprightly wordsmithing creates a delectable feast for book lovers. I couldn’t resist highlighting entire passages of wisdom as the protagonists struggle to accept themselves, their worth, and each other. While dealing with big emotions, the book never feels maudlin or preachy. Theodore (aka Mr. Arthur) struggles with PTSD and adverse childhood experiences. Clara has exchanged her dreams and ability to play with a need to control the outcomes of other’s behavior.

At first, I thought Bell relied completely on magical realism to bring the inanimate inventions of Mr. Drosselmeyer to life. But a quick look at the internet reveals the invention of automaton robots nearly a hundred years before the setting of A Lady’s Guide to Marvels and Misadventure (1860). I love it when an author surprises me by revealing my ignorance of history. Even better, the author points readers to their own Creator—regardless of the burdens we may carry and our beliefs about ourselves.

Ever heard of an automaton robot? Me, neither! You'll learn all sorts of fun historical facts while reading this enchanting new novel from Angela Bell. #automaton #automatonrobots #clockmaker #inspy #inspirational #ChristianFiction #VictorianEngland #inventions #amreading #bestbookof2024

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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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