Thursday, May 22, 2008

Review of Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti

A while back, Raven and I both wanted to read the same book. I was playfully mysterious about the book that we both wanted to read. Well, here it is. On my trip to the bookstore last weekend, I almost purchased it, even though I had sent my review copy to Raven, clear across the country. I may yet purchase it. It looks terrific. Here is Raven's review.

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CLOCKWORK HEART by Dru Pagliassotti was a treat to read. In fact, since finishing it I've found myself flipping back to reread my favorite parts, always a sign of a good book. If I'm going to be honest I have to admit I was hooked by the characters and the setting more than by the plot.

The book is steampunk set in an alternate (non-earth) world, and the plot is somewhat convoluted and involves several unrelated villains. One villain I thought was exceptionally well-drawn. I couldn't support his methods, of course, but I understood his goals and felt sorry for him. The other villain (actually a set of villains) was more nebulous. Their motivations were stated but not exactly shown, and I never got a clear sense of impending danger from them. This made the final quarter or so of the book a little weaker than it might have been. A third set of villains was also eluded to but never came into play.

However, I'm willing to forgive these weaknesses because of the book's good points, namely its characters and setting. The setting was exceptionally well-imagined. Pagliassotti didn't skimp on world-building. The society in CLOCKWORK HEART is caste-based and centers around machines, including primitive computers known as analytical engines that can be programmed using punch-cards. I loved the way Pagliassotti seamlessly incorporated computers into this world. They're not just there as window-dressing. They play a critical part in the plot.

Winged messengers appropriately known as icarii are equally important in the society. These aren't actual winged beings. They're humans wearing an elaborate armature with wings to make flight possible. They get a boost (pun intended) from the invented element ondium, which is lighter than air and causes them to float if they wear enough of it. Ondium, too, is integrated into the plot. Cool as it is, it's not there just to be cool.

Then there are brilliant little linguistic touches. For instance, the characters curse and insult one another using terms a metal- and flight-centered society might use. One character gets called a "slagging pain in the tailset" (the tailset is part of an icarus's flight apparatus). The curses and insults really helped impart the flavor of the setting. So did the use of the clever term "outcaste" to mean someone who has been cast out of his or her caste. I was impressed with Pagliassotti's use of language to set the scene.

The characters themselves come to life on the page. The story centers around Taya, an icarus who runs into trouble with two brothers of a higher caste. Cristof Forlore has renounced his caste and lives in exile in a lower part of the city-state, while Alister Forlore is what corresponds to a senator. If any of these three characters were removed it would ruin the book. Pagliossotti fleshes them out through their interactions, and they seem very human and sympathetic. I loved the shades of gray in them. My one complaint is that Taya's motivations are a little weak. I overlooked it, though, because I was having so much fun watching her interact with Cristof and Alister.

Ultimately this book is a keeper. Its weak points are amply offset by the things Pagliassotti does well. The world of CLOCKWORK HEART drew me in, and I fell in love with the characters.

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Here is my original debut showcase for Clockwork Heart, with all the usual links.

8 comments:

Heather said...

>analytical engines

mmmm....steampunk....must have this book...

Raven said...

Yeah, it's a fun book! The analytical engines were great.

Tia Nevitt said...

I've never read steampunk and I really think I need to. Analytical engines sound so cool. I have this old, OLD computer game called Arcanum that I loved. The tagline is "Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura." (Unfortunately I only loved it up to a point because it took forever to get through the rather tedious dungeons.)

Raven said...

This is my first exposure to steampunk, as far as I recall. And I guess it differs from "classic" steampunk because it's set in a non-Earth world.

In addition to the analytical engines, it had other cool technology. I won't spoil it, though.

Tia Nevitt said...

Being told things about the plot and ending never "spoils" the novel for me. The journey toward the ending is what interests me.

But that's just me!

Heather said...

S.M. Peters' WHITECHAPEL GODS is fantastic. I'm about to read Jay Lake's MAINSPRING.

Another good read is Alan Moore's LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN (just forget the movie ever existed!).

Tia Nevitt said...

But I loved the movie! I guess the novel was even better?

I saw Whitechapel Gods in the bookstore just yesterday. Now I'll know to take a closer look next time.

Raven said...

I'll need to take a look at those books next time I'm in the bookstore, too.