Reviews for The Wisdom of Dead Men
Included in The Irish Times in Robert Dunbar’s Christmas list of Top Thirty Children’s Books of the Year (12th of December 2009).
Mentioned in Sarah Webb’s ‘Books Kids Will Love This Christmas’ in The Irish Independent (9th December 2009).
‘Inventive and suspenseful,The Wisdom of Dead Menby Oisín McGann draws influence from the power that family corporations were able to wield against one another in the Victorian era. Internal conflict within the Wildenstern family is particularly high as its members vie for supremacy in this extraordinarily fast-paced romp. Together, its strong politicised base, vivid characterisation, mechanical inventiveness – and touch of the surreal, with spontaneously combusting women – make this a highly distinctive, memorable addition to the teenage science-fiction canon. It will be well suited to fans of the Mortal Engines series.’
Jake Hope, The Bookseller Magazine
‘[Ancient Appetites] was a busy book, but a very satisfying one.
‘Happily,The Wisdom of Dead Mencontinues in the same vein. The central character, Nate, remains as spoiled and impetuous as ever over the opening chapters, running off to carouse in Dublin and leaving Berto and Daisy open to an assassination attempt. It’s clear that he must step up to the plate and start to take real responsibility soon - his is the picaresque arc and the most important one. The mystery of the engimals begins to unravel, and with it the identities of several villains.
‘It’s all very tense, with red herrings aplenty, and a goodly dollop of humour. McGann slips in all sorts of historical figures, real and fictional - Darwin, Flashman, Sherlock Holmes - almost as asides, and it’s fun trying to spot them. This episode ends satisfyingly but leaves you hungry for more. What more could a fan of this kind of fantasy ask?’
Jill Murphy, Bookbag (Gives it four out of five stars)
‘Imagine The Godfather meets Philip Reeve and you have Wisdom of Dead Men.
‘Having read the original novel by Oisin, Ancient Appetites, I really did get into his world where Engimals and mankind co-exist in a Steampunk set Victoriana setting. It’s well written and above all it really will suck you in as each character has to watch their own back thanks to the rules of ascension. Add to this mix a fascinating crime that needs to be solved against the double dealing family politics and it will leave you wondering as to the final conclusion right to the final page. Its definitely one of my favourites of this YA year so far and I really will have a hard time waiting for the next instalment. Great stuff.’
‘In an alternative 19th century, Berto Wildenstern has become the Patriarch, head of Ireland’s most powerful family. And if he wasn’t busy enough avoiding a nasty death at the hands of relatives eager for his position, he now has a mystery to solve. Women are dying in strange fires and Berto and his younger brother Nate must figure out the cause. With strange mechanical animals (engimals), mafia-like intrigue and treachery at every turn, McGann’s sequel to Ancient Appetites delivers on every level. Highly recommended.’
Donal Cumiskey, Bookfest 2009 (the Recommended Reading Guide for Children’s Book Festival)
‘Ancient Appetites was one of my favourite YA sf novels and I’ve been eagerly awaiting the sequel.The Wisdom of Dead Menis a damn good successor . . . unlike too many of the sf texts being pushed at kids, [McGann’s] work always has a really fantastic story to tell.’
Farah Mendlesohn, Intergalactic Playground
‘The Wisdom of Dead Men by Oisín McGann is an explosive fantasy read, set in the Victorian era. It opens with a gripping spontaneous combustion and the action never lets up.’
Sarah Webb, The Irish Independent
‘Having read the original novel by Oisin, Ancient Appetites, I really did get into his world where Engimals and mankind co-exist in a Steampunk set Victoriana setting. It’s well written and above all it really will suck you in, as each character has to watch their own back thanks to the Rules of Ascension. Add to this mix a fascinating crime that needs to be solved against the double dealing family politics and it will leave you wondering as to the final conclusion right to the final page. Its definitely one of my favourites of this YA year so far and I really will have a hard time waiting for the next instalment. Great stuff.’
By Gareth Wilson "drosdelnoch2" - (TOP 500 REVIEWER on Amazon.co.uk)
4.0 out of 5 stars ‘Great Second Installment’, 31 Aug 2009
‘StartingThe Wisdom of Dead Menby Oisín McGann, second in a YA trilogy combining elements of steampunk with biopunk. It’s punktacular!’
‘This is a well written book and has a brilliantly fast-paced but complex plot. It took a while for me to get to grips with all the characters, as there are several, but by a third of the way through I was completely captivated by the story. . .
‘Engimals also play a big part in The Wisdom of Dead Men. Part animal, part machine - half breeds that are used for the ease of man. The descriptions of these beings is just fantastic and think that this kind of book could easily be made into a terrific graphic novel.
‘Verdict: This is a darkly entertaining read with a riveting ending that I really didn’t see coming. I hope there is a third instalment to this series as it’s absolutely brilliant.’
Book Chick City
‘I love the parallel Victorian world that McGann has created for the Wildensterns, the mix of the historical and the steampunk provide a delightfully intriguing background for the murderous shenanigans of the family. The inclusion of the Engimals and the history of their development and evolution was a particularly original touch. While probably not suitable for younger readers or particularly sensitive children, with its darkly entertaining mix of eccentric characters, family warfare, secret societies, witch hunts, Victoriana and spontaneous human combustion, the plot ofThe Wisdom of Dead Menhas just about everything you could ask for in a young adult’s fantasy adventure story and is a hugely enjoyable read.’
Erin Britton, www.bookgeeks.co.uk
‘A rollicking steampunk adventure . . . I couldn’t put it down.’
Anna Carey, The Irish Times (14th of November, 2009)
‘Set in Victorian-era Ireland, this alternate history novel revolves around the wealthy and powerful Wildenstern family - who just so happen to be largely composed of ruthless murderers. Fortunately, the new head of the family and his siblings are all decidedly more moral, and attempt to force the others to change their ways.
‘I thought the concept of this book sounded highly original when I first came across it, and I wasn’t disappointed. I loved the idea of a family where the corrupt people weren’t necessarily at the top - or even near it. The assassinations were, moreover, regulated by family Rules, which included things like exemptions for women (not that the women necessarily paid much attention to this). It made for all sorts of interesting incidents (largely assassination attempts), and if covering up the family’s dastardly dealings wasn’t enough already, they also had a supernatural secret to keep.
‘These would have been promising ideas just by themselves, but there was also the addition of a steampunk atmosphere. While this Victorian world was just like ours in most respects, the author included living, semi-intelligent machines called “enigmals”. Of unknown origin, they played a role in the debate over evolution, were theorised about by Charles Darwin in “The Origin of the Species”, and made certain tasks doable that weren’t possible in our world at that time. There were other supernatural inclusions, but it all fell into place perfectly in the universe the author created. It seemed so logical that I had no problems imagining this world could be real, assuming that the laws of physics were just slightly different to ours. I found it all fascinating!
‘Where this book really shone, however, was the plot. It was exciting, fast-paced, and above all suspenseful. So many questions were raised that had no answers, and I couldn’t wait to find out what was going on! In addition to assassinations, there was a series of unrelated (or were they...?) deaths going on in the country, a mysterious secret society potentially up to no good, and a history of odd disappearances related to a mental asylum. A number of storylines were told simultaneously, but they were all clearly intertwined. The only question was... how?
‘The answers, when they came, were very satisfying. McGann knew exactly how often to drop names and bring up coincidences so that the reader always knew just a little more than the characters, but not enough to be able to figure out the mysteries before they were ready to be revealed. In one instance I sort of guessed the culprit, but even then it panned out in a way I hadn’t foreseen at all. There were still some unanswered questions at the end of the book, and there’s obviously a sequel in the works. I can’t wait to read it - oh, the suspense! I want to find out more about how this world works, and how various things will come together. I want to find out whether or not certain minor characters will end up playing important roles as I suspect they will - and if not, I want to find out more about them anyway. I want to keep reading adventures set in this world! ‘One interesting part of this story was the role of women. Just like in the real world at that time, women were seen as the inferior, weaker sex, ruled by their emotions and incapable of understanding complex fields like science. This was mentioned by characters a lot. Even the good guys did nothing to stand up for women’s rights. There were no real tomboy characters, either, and I found it actually quite realistic. The female characters in this book were very strong, but not in the usual fictional sense that opposes all stereotypes - rather, they indirectly challenged expectations while still conforming to society. The teenage girl with a vulgar tongue still submitted to authority and fretted over what to wear to a ball, and the trophy wife played a large role in competently pulling the strings of a business behind the scenes. Others took it upon themselves to act as independent healers despite being labelled witches, while others still manipulated people around them despite a facade of helplessness. I thought this was a very realistic yet positive portrayal - it isn’t so simple to subvert stereotypes if the whole of society is against one. I did wish some of the men would stick up for them more, though of course they were bound by society’s expectations as well.
‘But then, all the characters were very well written. Even though the heroes and villains were clearly delineated from the start, the author never fell into the trap of making them Absolute Evil. In fact, if the reader hadn’t been told what they were capable of, some of them would never have seemed sinister at all - many actually came across as being quite ordinary or misguided. It was only by one or two important actions and/or decisions they made that the reader saw their evil side, and I loved that. Similarly, the good guys weren’t paragons of virtue, either, yet still remained likeable. In order to reform the villains, they needed to defend themselves from attacks, and weren’t always above a little deviousness themselves. When there were deaths, I felt genuinely upset the characters had died. McGann wasn’t afraid to kill off important, innocent or likeable people - which I think is quite rare in an author, actually.
‘Then there were all the little quirky extras that made this book special, like the occasional references to homosexual relationships (not something one generally associates with Victorian-genre novels), or the fact the heroes had secret passages but didn’t use them, or that one of the main characters was confined to a wheelchair. If I could only describe this book in one word, it would be: Magnificent!
‘My only complaint would be that sometimes the writing style came across as being a little too simplistic, but this is a young adult book, even if the main characters are fully grown adults. I’m giving it 5/5 stars.’
The Totally Random Thingie
‘I wonder about the inside of Oisín McGann’s head. I wonder if it is neat and tidy with everything in its place as part of a perfectly constructed state-of-the-art filing system or if it is a mad rambling Gothic affair with unexpected turrets rising up at impossibly precarious angles. Because it is very, very busy in there and yet for all the breathtaking activity, everything makes sense. Well at least it must do if Wisdom of Dead Men is anything to go by. On the surface of things, this pacy thriller follows the perilous fortunes of the Wildenstern clan, a mega-wealthy Victorian family who leave murder and mayhem in their wake. Dark and dangerous family secrets cover up a multitude of sins against the local Irish peasantry, troublesome women and various family members.
‘The Ireland of the story is familiar in name – Wicklow, Dublin, Merrion Square, Monto – but it is populated by strange engimals (part animal, part machine), secret societies, witches and rather nasty 400-year-old relatives. McGann mixes science, politics and history and raises many moral issues. He manages it all with a wonderful lightness of touch and superb control of an ever-evolving story that grows in complexity with every chapter but somehow never becomes confusing to the reader.
‘I had shied away from this author, thinking that he wrote mostly for boys in this age group but I am now totally hooked. This is the second part of the saga that began with Ancient Appetites. I cannot wait for the concluding title. If Oisín McGann has the bones of the next part insides his head, I wonder how he gets any sleep at all. Suitable for 12-year-old readers and upwards, who enjoy occasionally robust language and a few carefully dropped modern anachronisms.’
Jan Winter, Inis Magazine (The book was listed as Editor’s Choice)