Book Review: THE SMOKING HOURGLASS by Jennifer Bell (Middle Grade Monday)

Title in black on green next to image of boy with magical drumsticks
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: MG
Star Rating: 4 stars
Series: yes - second book



Book cover for THE SMOKING HOURGLASS: title in green on a woodland setting

As soon as Ivy and her brother Seb set foot back in the mysterious underground city of Lundinor, they know that something has changed . . . Where before there were cobbled streets, now the squares and lanes between the city’s enchanted shops are lush with spring blooms – but something dark is stirring just below the surface, and uncommon traders are uneasy.

Ivy and Seb have stumbled into a plot that could condemn every uncommoner to a disastrous fate . . . With the help of Valian, their extraordinary friend – and some exceptional uncommon objects – can Ivy and Seb put a stop to the sinister Dirge’s plans?

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


THE SMOKING HOURGLASS is another rip-roaring adventure through this world that explodes with imagination. It has the fast-paced action I’ve come to expect from MG, wrapped up in the world’s whimsy. All the well known bag travelling and bells are back, but this time with more objects doubling up in an interesting way and some hints dropped about the next book.

After setting up the world in the previous instalment, Jennifer Bell is able to really have fun with Ludinor and the Undermart this time. Having re-read THE CROOKED SIXPENCE ahead of picking up this entry, it really feels like the book has got into its stride with the world. Part of that is Ivy’s familiarity with the world means she’s not stopping at everything around her in surprise, but rather simply notes the oddity uncommon nature of the world as a matter of course. It allows for a bit more flow that also doubles as showing the Sparrow’s increased comfort in the world.

The change in Ludinor for spring was also a cool little bit of world building, making the same setting feel a little different, as did visiting new places. It felt a little forgotten towards the end, not quite as green throughout, but I liked the link to the Great Uncommon Goods.

The objects are at the heart of this book, linking one of them into Greek mythology. That was a really clever bit of foreshadowing I didn’t catch until the ending! More of the history of the world and its guilds was revealed (I have to say, the smoking hourglass is a cooler calling card than the crooked sixpence – good on the alchemists for that! See, I’ve always been right in thinking the alchemists are the best fantasy group!)

Ivy’s whispering abilities are very much in the background. I liked that there isn’t a focus on her “learning her powers”, as you often find in the second book of trilogies when the powers are discovered in the first. Instead, it’s just there in the background, not really bothering anyone but helping guide them a little. I think we may see more of it in the next book.

I’m glad there’s another book to go, THE FROZEN TELESCOPE, and that there will be a move to another location for the next one, if I understood the last chapter right.

Read my reviews of other books by Jennifer Bell:

The Uncommoners (this series):


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