Concinnity is coming.
The Clockwork Heart
By Dru Paglisotti
Juno Books (2008)
Note: This is the first book in a Young Adult series called the Clockwork Heart series. I have yet to read the others.
There are so many good things in this book and yet, it is a disappointing read. First the plot, then the critique. When the novel opens, the reader is treated to the exploits of an Icarus named Taya in the fictional city of Ondinium. Due to the properties of the metal, ondium, people are able to be outfitted with wings that allow flight. That is, if one is of the proper caste. The world of Ondinium is one of class negotiation and intrigue.
After saving the life of a Exalted’s wife and child, Taya ends up embroiled in mystery, intrigue, and romance as she’s torn between the Forlore brothers, Allister and Cristof. Allister is a high-ranking official and Cristof has exiled himself from his caste and its privileges. Someone is trying to destroy the clockwork heart that runs the city (which is a giant steam-powered punch card computer).
The world of Ondinium is incredibly vibrant and Paglisotti does well to allow the reader to really see the different castes and understand the interactions between the castes. The fact that Taya wants to be a diplomat allows Paglisotti to work in the voice inflections, body language, and clothing that differentiates one caste from the other. Her world is not afraid to be gritty with the criminal element carefully displayed. This is not a novel that grounds itself in the wealthy and hovers over the lower classes when a villain is needed.
Taya herself is not from a wealthy family and has had to work to earn her wings as an Icarus. Being an Icarus allows Taya the freedom to move between the districts that define the boundaries of the castes.
That makes the focus on the romance story in the novel all the more disappointing. I understand that this is a YA novel, but the depth of the world and the characters ends up being flattened by the oppressive romance story. The mystery aspect of the story is wrapped up well before the end of the book in favor of the ongoing romance aspect. For me, it feels like Paglisotti wanted to write the romance but knew that wouldn’t be enough so she throws a mystery and tacks on Steampunk. Ironically, the tacked on Steampunk element is what provides the most enjoyable aspects of the novel.
While it’s obvious that this novel isn’t my favorite, I still think it’s worth a read. Taya is a fascinating character and there are worse ways to spend time than drinking in the lavish world of Ondinium.
This review was submitted by steampunk literature enthusiast and PhD Jennifer Farrell of the Milwaukee School of Engineering.
Concinnity is proud to announce John Roberts will be doing a panel and screening for his award winning steampunk short film The Wheel.
See The Wheel by Milwaukee resident John Roberts here — vimeo.com/40742501
The Alchemy of Stone
By Ekaterina Sedia
Prime Books (2009)
Of the many Steampunk (and Steampunk declared) novels out there, this one perhaps comes closest to having a “punk” aesthetic. The story takes place in a fictional city state called Ayona. Ayona resembles Victorian London with its political intrigue and rigid class structure. Unlike London Ayona was created by gargoyles, beings who can manipulate stone until they turn into stone at the end of their lives. After creating the city the gargoyles mainly stay out of the way of the hereditary dukes who colonize Ayona.
When the novel begins, the power of the dukes is on the wane, a Parliament consisting of Alchemists and Mechanics has been put into place, and at the heart of the story is a female automaton named Maddie. Maddie is a free automaton, meaning her master (a Mechanist) emancipated her so she could study Alchemy; however, he still holds the key to her heart which means she must return to him in order to stay “alive.” She is contacted by the Gargoyles who want her to use her alchemical talents to prevent their turning the stone (hence the title of the novel) and she runs across the paths of a rogue group of Mechanists who want to stop the technological progress that is straining the social order.
The radical group gathers not only Mechanists, but farmers, lower class workers, immigrants, and unhappy Alchemists to become an underground movement aiming to disrupt the Mechanics and their technologies. Mattie’s role in the revolution is her ability to save the Gargoyles. During the revolution, however, her master is killed and her key presumably lost. To go any farther into the plot would spoil end, so I won’t.
This is a beautiful book that is somewhat hindered by annoying ambiguities. References to the outside world are made but its not clear how important they are which does somewhat undermine the social/class strife that Sedia seems to be keenly interested but trying to avoid by using Mattie as her protagonist. There’s not a great deal of detail regarding how the society is the way it is or why there’s a need for revolution. Ayona is an extremely complex and rich world, but Sedia only gives the reader glances at it.
Costume contest 1st place winner, J. Lacroix.