Jeff LaSala's Reviews > Clockwork Angels

Clockwork Angels by Kevin J. Anderson
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's review
Jul 09, 2012

really liked it

This is a short review of only the first few chapters of Clockwork Angels. As a longtime Rush fan, a sci-fi/fantasy novelist, and editor-in-training, I was honored to have receive a teaser copy from KJA to scope out.

To be clear, there is absolutely a certain level of bias feeding my opinions. From the moment I heard Fly by Night as a kid, I'd been won over by the musicianship, lyrics, and imagination of Rush. I've thrilled at the darkly wondrous "2112" and "Cygnus X-1," the epic fantasies of "Xanadu," "The Necromancer," "The Fountain of Lamneth," and "Hemispheres." And only two years ago, the steampunk-flavored sets and music of The Time Machine tour (click here to see my view of the latter). So yeah, I'm predisposed to like this. But I'm also a writer of speculative fiction myself and have what I believe is a discerning eye for a good story.

Kevin J. Anderson and Neil Peart collaborated on Clockwork Angels: The Novel and these first three chapters, which merely set the stage for the grander adventure, showcases both Anderson’s well-honed world-building talents and Peart’s luminous, fairytale narration.

In the first chapter, we’re introduced to the protagonist, Owen Hardy, and the predictable, "like clockwork" world he lives in. While it’s dry and commonplace to him (a fact which is only occurring to him as he prepares to come of age), it’s still quite interesting to us: Steamliner caravans float across the sky, then descend to tracks on their way to Crown City, laden with iron, copper, or lumber from distant mountains. Weather alchemists issue almanacs across the land that state, down to the precise minute, when the next thunderstorm will occur. Everything occurs as planned, and people are seldom harmed . . . thanks to the benevolence of the Watchmaker, who brought about the Stability.

As you would expect, there is a quiet, ordered oppression lurking in this seeming utopia, and Owen feels a sense of yearning to break from his well-defined role and see the larger world. I daresay it’s instantly reminiscent of the narrator’s words in "The Fountain of Lamneth," who yearns to see the world beyond "the mountains in the east." Or perhaps the "android on the run" in "The Body Electric"? Or how about the young man who challenges the ordered paradigm of the Temples of Syrinx? Oh yes, this is a Rush tale.

This book is set up to be an instant pleaser for Rush fans: the writing is synchronized with the lyrics in Clockwork Angels, fleshing out the full story only alluded to in the music, and it’s even peppered with lyrics from beyond that album. What I’m most curious about: How will this book hold up to non-Rush fans? It’s hard to say, but as a guy very familiar with fantasy and science fiction, and an appreciator of the marriage between book and music, I find that it holds up splendidly. Yes, there is a certain level of familiarity in the set-up. There are a few tropes and schemes we’ve seen before (which is unavoidable in a known genre), but there are already story elements that suggest more than a fresh coat of paint on an otherwise well-trodden genre. This is a steampunk fantasy as written by veterans of music and imagination.

In any case, I’m still talking about only the first three chapters. Things are only just getting started. We know from the corresponding album that Owen Hardy is going to make it to Crown City and see the Clockwork Angels with his own eyes, will witness the “evil” of the Anarchist, will fall in misguided love with a carnie, and have perilous adventures in his headlong flight. But how and why? And what will the resolution be? I can’t wait to find out.

I hope fans of Rush and Anderson, and anyone who enjoys good speculative fiction, joins me in this!
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