Earlier this year I read Polly Shulman’s Grimm Legacy. An entertaining book with a fabulous library at its heart. In her follow-up novel the New York Circulating Material Repository is back and this time the focus is on ‘The Wells Bequest’. A collection of science fictional items, that mostly come from HG Wells novels. So expect Time Travel and Invisible Men (though if there were any of those in the novel, I didn’t see them!)
The Wells Bequest sees Shulman build on the foundations of her first novel. It’s set sometime after the Grimm Legacy and introduces a new central character Leo Novikov. He teams up with Jaya, younger sister of one the main characters in The Grimm Legacy (where she provided entertaining comic relief). The two characters are well drawn and likeable. Leo a self-critical mechanical genius and Jaya a super-confident polymath. They are pitted against the misguided Simon (not one of literature’s most terrifying villain names). Simon, frustrated by his unrequited love for Jaya sets off a chain of events in that imperils the planet. Literally, ‘Love you like the world is ending’
As with TGL the central story is light, making this book more suitable for younger teens. Again, it’s the Material Repository that is the star of the show. This time Shulman expands on how items from fiction such as time machines and shrink rays might exist in reality. This philosophy of fiction and the arguments between Jaya and Leo were very pleasing.
But they only form a small part of the novel. A novel based on Wells artefacts is bound to be filled with time-travel, and indeed this is the case. In an attempt to thwart Simon’s crazed machinations, Leo finds himself in New York 1895, hoping for an audience with Nikolai Tesla. There follows, a based in reality, madcap, multi-time-thread rescue mission, that borrows much from the formative years of science fiction. It’s entertaining stuff, and references many of the genre classics.
With The Wells Bequest, Shulman is growing into her creation. The books have mass appeal to both children and older bibliophiles like myself. At one point the characters speculate that the quality of a fictional creation might be what brings into existence. This being the case, I think there is a strong likelihood that somewhere hidden inside Shulman’s New York Circulating Material Depository is a New York Circulating Material Depository. And on that brain bending note, I’ll leave you…
Many Thanks to Alesha at Oxford University Press Children’s Books for sending me this book to review.