The Claws of Evil is the first story in The Battles of Ben Kingdom, a middle-grade Victorian, supernatural, Steampunkish adventure series. It is set over six very eventful days in Ben’s life leading up to his birthday on 25 December 1891; in under a week his life changes forever. He has to adjust very quickly from being a cheeky apprentice-boy as his destiny comes crashing down upon him.
Ben’s a bit of a scally, always getting himself into mischief, apart from when he has his nose in a book. He lives with his dad and brother in a freezing cold room in a not very nice house, but it’s all they can afford. That is until his dad is given a silver coin, which surely will make all their lives better. Unfortunately, that coin is more than just a piece of silver and some people will do anything to get their hands on it.
That’s not Ben’s only problem. He’s also desperately trying to avoid The Weeping Man, a sinister looking figure who scoops up children that are never seen again. For some reason he’s got his sights set on Ben in particular. He’s also convinced he’s being watched, and he cannot work out who around him is trustworthy. Life has become very complicated for poor Ben.
It quickly becomes clear to Ben that there is more to his city than meets the eye. He needs to start looking up, and down, to see all that is going on. I really liked this layering effect, which allows for the ordinary world to co-exist with two opposing groups of more extraordinary folk. Look up for the Watchers, look down for the Legion. They both seem dangerous, their interests definitely conflict, and they both want Ben. For the future of just about everything it’s vital Ben makes the right choice, but which one is right?
I loved this story. It’s exciting and a bit scary at times. The characters are good; I especially enjoyed Jago Moon, Lucy Lambert, Ruby Johnson, and Claw Carter, even though I didn’t like them all. I think the mix of girl and boy characters works well too. Ben has difficult choices to make, and it’s not always clear that he is leaning the right way. I think that considering he has to adjust super quick to a world he hadn’t even dreamed of he does OK. I hope he’s ready for the next challenge though, as the battle continues in the second book, The Feast of Ravens.
The Claws of Evil and The Feast of Ravens are both published by Usborne. My copy of The Claws of Evil is from my own ridiculously overcrowded shelves.