The Witch Owl Parliament (Clockwork Curandera #1)

By School Library Journal

After a century of exile, the shape-shifting witch owls have returned to the Republic of Santander to take back the land they feel was wrongly taken from them, by force if necessary. Healer-in-training Cristina Franco Pedregón dies in battle against the witch owls, and her brother Enrique Franco resorts to engineering and alchemy prohibited by the Christian Church to revive her before she is lost forever. Now part machine, Cristina must decide whether to continue her work outside the Church, if she even can. This 19th-century mash-up of magical steampunk and Frankenstein is rich, with ample opportunity to continue building a deep narrative. Illustrations feature visually intricate nods to woodcut art, with limited color; the palette consists predominantly of black on a stucco-textured beige, with pops of red and olive green. A liberal use of patterns such as hatching works well in tandem with loose and untidy lines, while action lines and movement regularly break the panel borders, keeping the philosophically and culturally inclusive story moving at a quick pace. Character representation includes LGBTQ+ and Indigenous North American identities, and Spanish and Indigenous Mexican languages (including Nahuatl, Coahuilteco, Comecrudo, and Karankawa) are present throughout, with footnotes. A prose prequel story about Cristina, an author’s note, and sketches are included in the back matter. VERDICT Although this tale is easy to follow, it leaves readers with much to ponder, setting up a historical and magical steampunk world that can only grow from here. For teens who enjoy intellectually stimulating, action-packed tales.