Jacey's Reviews > Clockwork Heart

Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti
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's review
Mar 10, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: fantasy, fiction, romance
Read in January, 2010

There was much to admire in this book, yet much to dislike as well. It's set in the industrial city of Ondinium, built around the mountain where the lighter-than-air ondium metal is mined. Deep within the mountain is the Great Engine, a clockwork computer which runs many aspects of the city. The three levels on the mountain are inhabited by three castes with the exalteds, supposedly reborn as perfect, right at the top, governing and creating programmes for the Great Engine. Connecting the levels are the wireferries (think gondola-type ski-lifts) and the icarii, messengers who cross the boundaries of caste and who fly with the aid of great, strap-on mechanical wings.

There are holes in the worldbuilding which irritate me. I can almost picture the city and then something lets me down. The mountain is steep, but they seem to manage to build a huge city on it, round it and up it – in fact the city seems to exist in splendid isolation without any reference to where their food supplies and raw materials for building and manufacturing come from – let alone their water. They also have roads suitable for (small) horse-drawn coaches, which would seem to be totally impractical when the city seems at times to be built into the rock-face and yet at other times it has free-standing buildings that are better suited to level ground. The lower layer is a greasy, smoggy place full of manufactories and 'refineries' (Refining what? The ondium? We don't actually know.) but the pollution seems to stay obediently below the upper layers. For all their technological prowess, they don't seem to have invented a system of signalling (not even a mechanical 'clacks' or a useful method of instant communication. Anyhow, insert into this not-quite-logical world a touch of political dissent resulting in random acts of terrorism and some neighbouring countries jealous and desirous of Ondinium technology (yes, that's right, they don't seem to export what they make so how can they afford to import supplies).

A young female icarus, Taya, makes a daring mid-air rescue when one of the wireferries fails and gets involved with two high caste brothers, one (Alister) in government, the other (Cristof) a rebel who has walked out on his high-caste responsibilities and has gone to live in the lower layer and set up a simple clock-shop. Taya suspects Cristof of being a terrorist and begins for fall for the handsome Alister, but, of course, her first impressions are turned around by events. Part of this book is a murder-mystery, but that is solved too soon and then the final quarter of the book involves a plot to steal a prototype calculating engine.

And that's one more thing that irritates me. Real life is never neat. Unrelated strands rise and fall, twist and turn at random, but fiction is generally more structured. The structure of this book is weird. Throughout the first three-quarters of the novel it's a murder mystery with added romance, but then the secondary plot, instead of being woven through the whole book seems to start up as the first plot thread is solved. The main characters, Taya, Cristof and Alister are well drawn and the secondary characters, Taya's friends Cassi and Pyke, are reasonably well depicted, but once the last section starts there's a whole new bunch of characters – a programming team for the great engine – who are almost indistinguishable from each other. They never engage our sympathies.

The romance element between Taya and the two brothers is intriguing, the worldbuilding fascinating but incomplete, but the structure is frustrating and I could have done without the last quarter of the book.

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