The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby
Summary from Goodreads:
It was 1798 when the Morningstarr twins arrived in New York with a vision for a magnificent city: towering skyscrapers, dazzling machines, and winding train lines, all running on technology no one had ever seen before. Fifty-seven years later, the enigmatic architects disappeared, leaving behind for the people of New York the Old York Cipher—a puzzle laid into the shining city they constructed, at the end of which was promised a treasure beyond all imagining. By the present day, however, the puzzle has never been solved, and the greatest mystery of the modern world is little more than a tourist attraction.
Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jaime Cruz live in a Morningstarr apartment house—until a real estate developer announces that the city has agreed to sell him the five remaining Morningstarr buildings. Their likely destruction means the end of a dream long-held by the people of New York. And if Tess, Theo and Jaime want to save their home, they have to prove that the Old York Cipher is real. Which means they have to solve it.
I totally confess that I picked this book up because of the cover. I didn’t really care what it was about, I just wanted to love the cover! Then I saw that it was by Laura Ruby, the author of Bone Gap, so my heart beat a little bit faster. This was going to be good!
It was initially a little hard to get into. But I remembered having the same issue with Bone Gap, so I stuck it out and I was glad I did. The alternative New York in this story is fascinating. It was designed and built in the 1800’s but except for a prologue and an epilogue it all takes place in the present. It was as steampunkish as I would have like or anticipated but there were a lot of cool things in this alternate New York. I loved all of the bugs/robots that were responsible for keeping the streets and subways clean, I also like the elevator that went sideways, Lots of gadgets and fun ideas, but not really what I consider steampunk.
We get the story from mostly the three main characters, Theo, Tess and Jaimie in alternating chapters. There are a few chapters told from other perspectives but not many. All three kids are very likable and have their individual talents and issues. Theo is the logical one, he figures out how things go together and keeps the trio on track. Tess is the emotional anxious one, but she is very clever and it is usually her that finds the clues and the next steps to the cipher. I thin I liked Jamie the best though. He is an artist and has an eidetic memory. He can draw from memory and his drawings are sometimes described as being simple, but capturing what the scene or object was anyways. Together they make a formidable team.
The Old York Cipher was an interesting puzzle. Many have tried to solve it and all have failed. But our group of three keep stumbling on to new clues and paths that no one else has. It is almost like the Cipher was waiting for this group to come along and show them the way. There were parts that were a little slow in the story, but there were also some great action sequences that kept you on the edge of your seat. Although there is no actual magic in the story it is a bit magical in the way the events play out. Like I said, it is almost like the Cipher had been waiting for these three to come together to solve the puzzle.
A really great story from a masterful story teller, I am looking forward to the next book and finding out where our heroes go next. Even though this is being promoted as a tween book, I think many teens would like it as well.