Written by Matthew J. Kirby
Fifteen year old Billy Bartram and his botanist father, John, are members of the secret Pennsylvania Philosophical Society organized by Ben Franklin. In 1753, they, along with the other members, embark on an expedition to find the lost kingdom of the Welch Prince, Madoc. They travel in the de Terzi, a magnificent flying machine. Peril and high adventure await them all as they fly farther into the western territories that are being claimed by the French, the English, and the Native American. I truly loved this exciting book and had a hard time putting it down! Although Matthew Kirby has used some true historical facts and people in this novel, it is not historical fiction, but rather, in his words, American fantasy. There is danger and adventure on every turn of the page and the characters, settings, and situations are so descriptive and well written, it was l ike watching a movie in my mind. I could just see it all unfold so beautifully. For all these reasons and more, I highly recommend this book!
Review by Renee Larsen, Hillside Elementary Media Center
Rating: ★★★★★ (5 Stars)
Interest Level: Grades 3-6
Billy Bartram, the youthful son of a botanist explorer in colonial Pennsylvania, awakens one night to the sound of French-speaking intruders rustling through his father’s study on their farm. He helps his father escape harm and is brought into his confidence, learning that his father belongs to a secret society of philosophers, inventors, and scientists led by one Benjamin Franklin. Soon he is invited along with his father on a spectacular and perilous journey. Using a 1750s state-of-the-art airship the philosophers embark on an experimental flight deep into the interior American frontier to find the fabled Welsh-American Kingdom of Madoc, hoping to form an alliance against the French and save the colonies from war.
Some of the premises on which this story is built (steampunk-style air ships, an alternate magical history of colonial America) have been used by other authors before, but this story uses these tropes to tell an engaging and smart tale filled with memorable characters, settings, and situations. I loved the vividness of the settings and the richness of the world-building. Kirby uses very selective details from historical research, period folklore, and his own imagination to provide this level of description without bogging down the story. This is great craftsmanship that the aspiring writer in me would love to emulate.
Perhaps the most distinguished element of this story is the interior psychological exploration of the complex and realistic relationship between Billy and his father as they travel together. This is an element that many middle graders will definitely relate to, and it is something rarely explored in a middle grade adventure story. The story also deals unabashedly with the problems of prejudice, racism, and colonialism, and differing viewpoints on these issues are at the core of the conflict between Billy and his father. Even with these serious themes and psychological elements, the novel still succeeds as a great adventure story full of suspense and mystery.
I loved this historical fantasy adventure. I highly recommend it for upper elementary and jr. high readers who love fantastic adventure stories or historical fiction. Read-alikes: Jennifer A. Neilsen’s Ascendance Trilogy, Geoff Rodkey’s Chronicles of Egg, Rick Riordan, Philip Reeve.
Review by Joshua Whiting, Granite District Librarian
Rating: ★★★★½ (4.5 stars)
Interest Level: Grades 4-9
Author Website: matthewjkirby.com
The Lost Kingdom
Written by Matthew J. Kirby
Release Date: September 1, 2013
ISBN: 9780545274265 (hardcover)