Only the most recent posts pop up on the HOME page. For searchable lists of titles/series reviewed on this Blog, click on one of the Page Tabs above. On each Page, click on the series name to go directly to my review.

AUTHOR SEARCH lists all authors reviewed on this Blog. CREATURE SEARCH groups all of the titles/series by their creature types. The RATINGS page explains the violence, sensuality, and humor (V-S-H) ratings codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their Ratings. The PLOT TYPES page explains the SMR-UF-CH-HIS codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their plot types. On this Blog, when you see a title, an author's name, or a word or phrase in pink type, this is a link. Just click on the pink to go to more information about that topic.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Author:  Beth Cato
Plot Type: Romantic Fantasy; Steampunk      
Publisher:  Harper Voyager     
          "The Deepest Poison" (prequel short story)
          The Clockwork Dagger (paperback & e-book, 9/2014)
          The Clockwork Crown (6/2015) (FINAL)   

This ongoing post was updated on 7/6/15 to include a review of the second, and FINAL, novel in the series, The Clockwork Crown. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building, a summary of the prequel short story, and a review of book 1. WARNING! This new review contains SPOILERS for book 1.
                      NOVEL 2: The Clockwork Crown                      
     Narrowly surviving assassination and capture, Octavia Leander, a powerful magical healer, is on the run with handsome Alonzo Garrett, the Clockwork Dagger who forfeited his career with the Queen’s secret society of spies and killers—and possibly his life—to save her. Now, they are on a dangerous quest to find safety and answers: Why is Octavia so powerful? Why does she seem to be undergoing a transformation unlike any witnessed for hundreds of years?

     The truth may rest with the source of her mysterious healing power—the Lady’s Tree. But the tree lies somewhere in a rough, inhospitable territory known as the Waste. Eons ago, this land was made barren and uninhabitable by an evil spell, until a few hardy souls dared to return over the last century. For years, the Waste has waged a bloody battle against the royal court to win its independence—and they need Octavia’s powers to succeed.

     Joined by unlikely allies, including a menagerie of gremlin companions, she must evade killers and Clockwork Daggers on a dangerous journey through a world on the brink of deadly civil war.


     As the first novel ended, Octavia and Alonzo were on the run, pursued by both sides: the Caskentians, who want to kill them both, and the Wasters, who want to kill Alonzo and force Octavia to use her powers against Caskentia. As this novel begins, the couple arrives at the boundary of Tamarania, one of the Southern Nations, where they hope to sneak into that country's vast libraries so that Octavia can learn more about the Lady, Her history, and Her powers. From that point on, the pair is constantly in danger from a variety of enemies, including a train car filled with women who want Octavia to heal them and a Caskentian Dagger who wants to kill Alonzo.

     The events of their journey sometimes separate the two, which—although frightening for both—does cause them to realize their deep love for one another. (Although once again, they exchange only a kiss, nothing more.) In the course of their adventures, they meet up again with some old friends (like Mrs. Stout) and some old enemies (like Lanskay, the Waster who burned them both the last time they met).

     The dangerous journey is, of course, important to the plot, but what is at the center of things is Octavia's ever-growing power and the fact that her body is going through some ominous changes (which I cannot describe here because it would be a SPOILER). Needless to say, she is desperate to find some ancient texts that will tell her what is going on and how to deal with it. The final chapters are quite mystical as Octavia learns more about her destiny and tries to deal with its implications. 

     There are many suspenseful moments throughout the story, but there are plenty of heartbreaking ones as well, particularly those involving Octavia's pet gremlin, Leaf, and Jasmine, the white mare who twice carries Octavia to safety. There are also some tender moments between Octavia and a new ally whom she rescues from a dark and rotting prison. And let's not forget the budding romance between Octavia and Alonzo, which goes into full blossom as the story advances. As Octavia puts it: "She was in love with a half-Caskentian, half-Tamaran former apprentice Clockwork Dagger, a temporary airship steward, a man with a maniac of a sister and a regal mother, and a peculiar knack for sewing." (You'll meet both the sister and the mother in the second half of the story, and you'll find out what he sews, and why.)

     All of the questions left unanswered at the end of novel one are taken care of by the end of the book. Does Octavia get a chance to confront Miss Percival about her betrayal? Will the questions about the royal family be answered? Will Octavia run out of leaves from the Lady's tree before she can save the lives of every ally who is fatally injured during their ongoing adventures? Why are Octavia's powers changing so rapidly? And what's with her skin "rash"? Do we ever meet the Lady in person? Will Octavia and Alonzo achieve their HEA? Yes, they are all answered.

     Cato has created a fresh and inventive world that goes beyond the usual fantasy tropes, particularly in this novel. Although you'll probably be able to predict the solution to Octavia's huge dilemma at the very end of the book, that doesn't really take anything away from the final resolution, which is quite satisfying. If you enjoy romantic fantasy, I recommend this series. To read an excerpt from The Clockwork Crown, click HERE to go to the book's page and click on the cover art.
     The series is set in the mythical country of Caskentia, a land that has been divided by ongoing civil war between the Caskentians and the Darrowmen, derogatorily called Wasters. Currently, an uneasy armistice is in effect, but everyone is on the alert for further attacks, and spies from both sides are busy embedding themselves in information-gathering positions. Queen Evandia of Caskentia is not a popular ruler because she has isolated herself from her people and has failed to support them economically. Government workers—including soldiers and medical personnel—are unpaid, and people in the cities and countryside are living hand to mouth. Although the Caskentians love their country and hate the Wasters, most of them do not hold the queen in high esteem. Before the armistice, the Darrowmen constantly attacked the outlying villages, and the Queen's forces did little to protect the citizens. Evandia came to the throne decades ago after the crown princess was kidnapped and the rest of the royal family was murdered by the Wasters.  

    The titular Clockwork Daggers are not—as you might expect—sharp-bladed weapons; they are the Queen's secret undercover agents. The Daggers swear their allegiance to Queen and country and are trained to be highly efficient assassins and covert operatives. As one character explains, "Caskentia trains their agents, winds them up like a clockwork toys, and sends them off to do whatever needs doing." (The Clockwork Dagger, p. 38) 
     The series heroine is Octavia Leander, a 22-year-old medician—a faith-based magical healer. In this world, the medicians channel their their magical healing power from the Lady, a god-like female spirit symbolized by a mystical tree. "The Lady was a woman and mother and of great faith in God….Her husband and children succumbed to illness. However, she used the wisdom gleaned from their deaths to go forth and help others….She saw more pain and suffering than most people could withstand, yet she endured. At the end of her life, she begged God that she still be able to heal. She was planted in the ground and grew as a tree bound to the very soul of the earth….The Tree is somewhere beyond the Waste and said to be higher than the Pinnacles. Her seeds bring back the decayed dead, her leaves revive the recently departed, and other parts of the tree are also powerful curatives." (The Clockwork Dagger, p. 67) The sacred tree of life is a common motif in the theologies and mythologies of many cultures.

     Olivia and her fellow medicians hear pain as discordant music, and they analyze those sounds to diagnose injuries, determine the necessary medications, and monitor the healing process. Their healing powers rely on a combination of prayers to the Lady and the application of various herb-based concoctions to the victim's wounds. One other characteristic of the medicians is that they have a wax-plugged open wound in one of their arms and are periodically required by the Lady to bleed themselves. These blood-lettings are sacrificial offerings to the Lady: "Octavia peeled back the wax. Blood immediately welled along the fingernail-size cut, and she angled her arm so it dripped between the wagon slats to the dirt below. The pressure in her arm eased, blood slowing, as a single blade of grass thrust up through the gap in the wood. Her offering was accepted." (The Clockwork Dagger, p. 7)
     Octavia is highly favored by the Lady and as a result, she is one of the most powerful medicians in this world. Octavia was orphaned as a child when an enemy airship crashed onto her village, leaving her the only survivor. She was saved by Miss Percival, who runs the training academy for medicians. For many years, Octavia was one of Miss Percival's favorites, but when Octavia's powers began to exceed her teacher's talents, Miss Percival's jealousy put an end to their close relationship.

     If you enjoyed Gail Carriger's PARASOL PROTECTORATE (PP) series, you'll probably enjoy this one, although CLOCKWORK doesn't have the frenetic level of slapstick humor that PP doesalso no werewolves. Other similar series are Lilith Saintcrowe's BANNON & CLARE, Delphine Dryden's STEAM AND SEDUCTION, Beth Ciotta's THE GLORIOUS VICTORIOUS DARCYS, Kate Cross's CLOCKWORK AGENTS, and Devon Monk's AGE OF STEAM. Just click on the pink-link series titles above to read my reviews of those series.

     Click HERE to view the author's web page entitled "The World of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER." Click HERE to read the author's character description of Octavia Leander.

                      PREQUEL SHORT STORY:  "The Deepest Poison"                     
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: Octavia Leander, a young healer with incredible powers, has found her place among Miss Percival's medicians-in-training. Called to the frontlines of a never-ending war between Caskentia and the immoral Wasters, the two women must uncover the source of a devastating illness that is killing thousands of soldiers. But when Octavia's natural talents far outshine her teacher's, jealousy threatens to destroy their relationship—as time runs out to save the encampment. To read an excerpt from "The Deepest Poison," click HERE to go to the story's page and click on the cover art.

                      NOVEL 1:  The Clockwork Dagger                       
     As the first novel begins, Octavia grabs our attention immediately when she darts out into heavy city traffic to rescue a puppy who has escaped its leash and been run over. Even though she has been warned to keep her powers hidden, she can't walk away from the dying puppy. Octavia is in the city because she is embarking on her first mission—the first time she has been out in the world on her own. She is to board an airship and travel to Delford, a small village with a number of gravely ill citizens. Octavia is hoping that she will be able to set up her own medical practice and make her life in that rural village, away from the grit and grime of the fume-filled city. She is a primordial spirit, uncomfortable and out of place in an urban world driven by sooty, smoky technology and dirty politics. At one point, she muses, "Cities. Stinky, confusing, crowded, dead bodies all about. Lady, help me escape this accursed place." (p. 12) Octavia has had plenty of healing experience because she has been a front-line battlefield medician for several years and has healed soldiers from both sides from many severe injuries. One thing you need to know about the Lady is that she generally doesn't take sides, but directs her medicians to heal all those who need it.

     Almost as soon as Octavia boards the airship on the first leg of her journey, attacks on her life begin, and they keep right on coming and coming and coming all through the story. It's like a carnival fun-house metaphor. No matter where she goes, someone tries to grab her or stab her or poison her or shoot her…etc., etc. The tension and suspense begin to build early in the story because Octavia and her new friend (and shipboard roommate) Viola Stout don't know who is trying to kill Octavia or why. Another new friend is Alonzo Garret, one of the airship's stewards. He rescues Octavia several times, and the two begin a mild flirtation (in between assassination attempts). One of the major themes of this novel is that everyone has secrets and no one is who he or she pretends to be, so be alert for some subtle and not-so-subtle clues as the story moves along and be prepared for a few surprises. In general, it's not hard to figure out who is good and who is bad because their levels of morality are usually clearly telegraphed right from the beginning.
     The story follows Octavia's journey as she tries to survive. Eventually, she learns that she is at the center of a deadly conspiracy and that both sidesthe Caskentians and the Wastersare after her, each for a different reason and each with a different outcome in mind for her.

     The book has more serious drama than humor, but a small amount of comic relief comes from the antics of a cute baby gremlin. Octavia rescues the creature from certain death and then names him Leaf because he is small and green. 

     The novel has a well-written, if familiar, plot that bodes well for the series. One problem, though, is that each of the primary characters has an improbable secret that fortuitously clicks right in as the perfect puzzle piece to build or resolve the plot. This gets overly coincidental at times, but it didn't bother me as much as I thought it would because the story moves along at such a fast pace that I didn't have time to think too deeply about the finer details of the plot construction. 

     Cato weaves the steampunk elements seamlessly into the plot, along with a scattering of Victorian cultural references. But there are also a few modern touches. For example, Octavia doesn't wear a corset; she wears a brassiere, an undergarment that wasn't worn in the real world on a large-scale basis until the early 20th century.

     I would not classify this series as a paranormal romance, because the romance definitely is not the primary focus of the plot. I'd call this novel a steampunk fantasy with a very light touch of romance. Octavia and Alonzo share just one quick kiss with a promise for more in the next book. Although some of the characters and plot elements are familiar tropes, the author puts them together in a manner that is enjoyable and fast-paced. The ending leaves Octavia and Alonzo's safety situation and their personal relationship unresolved in a riding-off-into-the-sunset-together sort of way. We'll have to wait until next summer for The Clockwork Crown to find out what happens to them and to Caskentia. Click HERE to read the first chapter of The Clockwork Dagger

No comments:

Post a Comment