Series: CLOCKWORK EMPIRE
Plot Type: Steampunk
Ratings: V4; S3; H2
Publisher and Titles: Roc
The Doomsday Vault (11/2011)
The Impossible Cube (5/2012)
The Dragon Men (11/2012)
The Havoc Machine (5/2013)
As book 2 opens, Alice and Gavin are on the run—actually, on the fly—from Third Ward agents Philippa, Simon, and Glenda, who are furious that Alice let loose the Clockwork cure in England, thus stopping the Clockwork Plague, closing down the Third Ward and leaving them jobless—not to mention the fact that they will no longer have access to the clockworkers who have keep England supplied with multitudes of clever mechanical weapons. Alice and Gavin are traveling with Dr. Cleff (the crazed clockworker who invented the Impossible Cube in the previous book), Feng (son of the Chinese ambassador), Kemp (Alice's mechanical valet), and Alice's menagerie of mechanicals (small, metal, mechanized devices that follow her commands). Gavin's clockwork symptoms are getting worse and worse, and Alice believes that the only way to save him is to go to China and beg the Chinese clockworkers (aka dragon men) to develop a cure.
The romantic relationship between Alice and Gavin has developed to the stage where they are now engaged, but are putting off marriage until Gavin can be cured. The situation becomes strained as Gavin occasionally goes into a clockwork fugue state during which he is uncharacteristically rude and arrogant to Alice, treating her like a lowly worker. She knows that he can't help it and isn't even aware that he's doing it, but his behavior still hurts her feelings. On the other hand, Gavin is impatient with Alice because she insists on spending much of her time curing clockwork plague victims in every city they visit. Being touched with her blood cures most of them immediately—but, unfortunately, it doesn't work for Gavin. Almost every time Alice stops to heal someone, she puts their group in danger.
The early part of the book consists of the good guys flying away and the bad guys catching up with them. Each time, a battle ensues and the good guys take off again. Eventually, Gavin leads the group to Luxembourg, where they hide themselves in a circus owned by Gavin's old friend, Dodd. When the circus train reaches Kiev, Alice and her group find a powerful enemy who is even more dangerous than Philippa and her cohorts.
Kiev is considered to be the original source of the clockwork plague, and it has more than its share of clockworkers, mostly belonging to the Gonta and Zalizniak families, who have joined together for strength. The clockworkers are kidnapping children from the streets of Kiev and turning them into clockworkers—virtual slaves to the two families. The climactic ending battle brings the Impossible Cube back into play as the primary and secondary characters on both sides nearly destroy the city of Kiev.
The bare bones of this plot include one or two meaty relationship scenes, and a few nice action sequences, but compared to the complex plot we saw in book 1, this story is more famine than feast. The lack of action is at its lowest level during the too-frequent scenes in which the Gavin and Dr. Cleff go into their clockwork mode and explain (at great length and in highly technical language) the how and why of their various projects and schemes. Frankly, I found myself skimming past those paragraphs/pages. Another problem is that Alice and her team are supposed to be quite intelligent. So...why, then, do they keep getting caught in various traps, and why don't they ever have any contingency plans? A final detriment is that Philippa's sudden change of behavior in the final scene doesn't ring true. From the very beginning of the book, she has been driven by her sense of betrayal and her daddy-related emotions to capture or kill Alice and Gavin, no matter what the cost. Her almost instantaneous change of heart strikes a definite false note. For me, this book just doesn't live up to the promise of book 1. It actually seems more like a "bridge" novel—a set up for the confrontation with the dragon men in book 3.
The author has created a web site for the CLOCKWORK EMPIRE. Click HERE to go to that site.
BOOK 1: The Doomsday Vault
In the meantime, a young American airman, Gavin Ennock, finds his life irrevocably changed when his airship is captured by pirates and he escapes to roam the streets of London, earning a pittance by busking in Hyde Park. Gavin is blessed with an angelic voice and an extraordinary talent for playing his violin. Soon, though, Gavin is kidnapped by a mysterious woman and placed in solitary imprisonment in a tower with only with his violin for company. The plot follows Alice and Gavin as both try to make the best of the difficult situations in which they find themselves. Gavin yearns to be free so that he can continue his life in the air, while Alice dreams of a life that would free her father from his debts and thus allow her to refuse Norbert's marriage offer. Her primary interest is in technology, specifically automatons.
As the story advances, Alice and Gavin meet and are mutually attracted, although they both realize that a romance between them would never work. After all, he's an American commoner and she's a Baron's daughter. When a mysterious masked clockworker begins to shadow and taunt Alice, the action ratchets up, until eventually the romantic leads get themselves involved in capturing gigantic automatons, freeing an imprisoned clockworker, and leading a rebellion. The most outrageous automaton is in the shape of a giant tree.
This is a fresh and inventive story, with interesting characters and lots of steampunk-inspired action, including airship pirate battles, political intrigue, wild weaponry, automatons of every size, shape, and ability—and always plenty of clockwork zombies! Particularly entertaining are Alice's two automaton sidekicks: Kemp, her persnickety manservant, and Click, her clever cat. Alice also uses a bevy of tiny flying automatons to lace up her corsets and perform other housemaid duties. Those scenes put me in mind of the Disney Cinderella movie in which Cinderella receives personal assistance from a flock of tiny bluebirds and some mice. Click HERE to read chapter one of The Doomsday Vault.