Sunday, 27 January 2013

Review: Timekeeper

Timekeeper by Heather Albano

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed the author's previous book [b:Timepiece|12860065|Timepiece|Heather Albano||18011900] a great deal, so I was building up high expectations for this one. Unfortunately, for me it never quite caught fire, even in the scene where the house literally caught fire.

Part of the issue may have been with the pacing. There were long stretches of reflection in between scenes of relatively little action.

Breaking it down into my four reviewing categories:

1. Language. It was competently written, though clogged with verbosity a couple of times. I realize that this was partly an attempt to convey a period feel (or an homage to [b:Frankenstein|18490|Frankenstein|Mary Shelley||4836639]), but I found it dragged. The editing is also a touch rough, though I've read much, much, much worse (including in at least four books from HarperCollins). There were a couple of incorrect homophones ("errant nonsense" for "arrant nonsense", and "affect" where it should have been "effect"), but most of the errors were missing or misplaced words in sentences. It was clear enough what they meant, but the effect (not affect) was to give an impression that the writing was rushed and sloppy. I know this wasn't the case, because I've been following the author's blog and she has worked hard over a long period on this book, but there it is. Language: 3 stars.

2. Plot. I didn't have quite the sense of intricacy from the plot this time, perhaps because there was a lot less time traveling than in the previous book. Instead, there were flashbacks to how secondary characters ended up doing what they were doing, interspersed between a lot of scenes in which the main characters agonized over what they should do next to fix what they'd done wrong last time. There was a theme about when one should take decisive action and when one should think things through, and the balance was definitely towards the latter. Although the stakes were high, this held the characters back from action more than it propelled them towards it. Plot: 3 stars.

3. Characters. We got to meet alternate versions of some characters from the previous book, and they were different enough to be interesting, though one was less likable and the other wasn't likable in either book. We also met some people who had brief appearances or were mentioned in the other book, and I found them appealing and interesting. Unfortunately, though, I didn't feel that the main characters developed all that much this time. Their relationship became spoken rather than unspoken, but that was almost a formality by that point.

The themes of giving women their independence and of getting people to change their actions by talking candidly like sensible adults were well chosen, I thought, and well demonstrated by the characters. I'll give this section 4 stars.

4. Setting. Heather Albano takes a great deal of trouble over her research, and it shows. The historical details felt real without a lot of infodumping, and were concisely and naturally conveyed. The different feel of the different versions of London came through well, I thought, and the various settings were made clearly distinct from one another with a minimum of description. Four stars for the setting.

If you've been keeping track and doing the mental arithmetic, you'll see that I've arrived at 3.5 stars, which is about where I ended up as an overall score. I didn't round it up to 4 because I just didn't quite feel it was a 4-star book. With better editing and tighter pacing, I think it would have been.

Now, I'm aware that I've frequently said that I liked the first book in part because it wasn't the usual style of steampunk, where the author hotglues brass gears to a top hat and sticks it on Indiana Jones. It was more thoughtful than that, better researched, and the characters had more depth and realism. But this, I think, has gone just a couple of steps too far in the other direction, and needed more action to be the book I was hoping for.

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