The Fantastical Contraption by Bretigne Shaffer

Series: Annabel Pickering and the Sky Pirates, Book 1

Released: November 19, 2019

Genre: Children’s Steampunk, Middle-Grade, Children’s Action & Adventure

Thirteen-year-old Annabel Pickering is a quiet girl with an ordinary life: She loves riding her pony, reading on her own, and riding the trains and flying machines high above the city – and she ALWAYS crosses the street before she gets to the weird old house where the crazy spinster and her niece live! But Annabel’s quiet, ordinary life is about to get turned upside down when her parents are abducted from their home right in front of her by mysterious men in dark cloaks. To save them, she will fly with pirates, get into a deadly sky battle with the Queen’s own armies and organize a treacherous prison break… all with the help of the most unlikely of allies.

What is the Fantastical Contraption? What secrets does it hold inside? And what about it convinced the Queen to abduct Annabel Pickering’s parents?

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As they walked, Professor Helliweg explained. “You see, it was our plan all along to find a way to secure your parents’ release from inside the prison itself,” he said as he huffed up a small hill, ankledeep in dried leaves. “We have quite a network of friends ‘on the inside’ ad it were. There was no point, you see, in arranging for them to break out of prison, for what should they do then, after they were free?” Annabel blushed, having much earlier realized this very error in her own plan.

If you had a chance to board an air ship that sailed the skies with pirates, would you jump at the idea or be fearful? Aren’t pirates supposed to follow a different code than most ‘normal’ law abiding citizens? It is this very reason that Miss Annabel Pickering finds herself among their company and Shaffer certainly does make her journey fantastical!

As a thirteen-year-old girl, Annabel Pickering is far from perfect. She goes to school, she gets picked on, and she always avoids passing the spinster’s house on her way home for fear of even more torment from the mean girls. On one horrid day in particular, Annabel is on her way home when she sees men abducting her parents! Not knowing what she should do, her first instinct is to hide, but someone takes her from behind and drags her into a neighboring house before the men in black spot her. And to what house does she find herself holed up in…of course it’s the crazy old spinster’s house and her weird niece to boot! After some things are explained—but not much—Annabel must travel with pirates, escape the Queen’s Guard in a hotel, and forge friendships with those she would have never imagined in order to save her parents.

Shaffer’s characters are spontaneous, creative, and fun. They are also well developed, having a sense of adventure, mystery, and determination among other traits that readers can relate to. The pace of this story begins a bit bit slow, but there is a lot being introduced, like liquid music and… the unfolding of a bigger plot at work. With incredibly original concepts and intrigue, Annabel’s adventure becomes a story that readers will soon find themselves consuming at a much faster rate. That is what makes an exceptional story, right?! The anticipation and nail-biting or the “hanging on the edge of your seat” feeling are there for this entertaining middle-grade story. The book cover is also very appealing, especially to a younger audience and that is always a plus for the author since this is the first thing that readers generally see before the book blurb on the back. There are a few spelling and grammatical errors; however, this should not hinder the enjoyment of the novel. If you are a reader of children’s action and adventure or middle-grade steampunk, you may be interested to find out what happens to Annabel and her search for her parents.

An electronic copy of this book was provided to Turning Another Page by Reedsy Discovery and in no way affects the honesty of this review. We provide a four-star rating to Annabel Pickering and the Sky Pirates: The Fantastical Contraption by Bretigne Shaffer.

Bretigne Shaffer is a former journalist who has lived in places such as France, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan. She currently lives in California with her husband, two children, and various pets, and she is working on her own Fantastical Contraption.


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