Sunday, 10 August 2014

Review: A Clockwork Heart

A Clockwork Heart
A Clockwork Heart by Liesel Schwarz

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The problem I have with steampunk is that, with very few exceptions, the execution falls so far short of the concept.

The concept here is promising. We have a world in which the Fae are common, and in which "spark" (a kind of liquid electricity) powers wonderful machines. (Battersea Power Station in London is replaced with Battersea Spark Monastery, where monks - always described as "little", for some reason - practice electromancy to supply the city with power.) We have a heroine who pilots airships and is also the current incarnation of the Pythian Oracle, and a hero who's given up his warlock powers in order to be with her. We have villains who are stealing people off the streets of London, replacing their hearts with magical-mechanical devices, and turning them into an undead army. Sweet!

I read the previous book in the series, and rated it three stars, largely because it was overly troperiffic and because I didn't feel that the elements of urban fantasy, steampunk and romance blended all that well. The romance, in particular, seemed forced and clumsy and excessively telegraphed. But it was well enough written that I had hopes for improvement in Book 2. Here's what I said in my final paragraph:

"I enjoyed the Professor's dialogue, and wished that we'd seen him earlier (I certainly hope that if there is a sequel, as the ending signals, he gets more screen time). The climax, though troperific, was suspenseful and kept me reading. And I didn't want to shake the heroine very often at all, which for an urban-fantasy or steampunk heroine is impressive."

Well, the Professor didn't get much screen time. The tropes were a bit less over the top, but the worst one, the one that ruined my enjoyment of the book, the one that made me want to, not shake the heroine, because that would be wrong, but certainly shout at her repeatedly, was that the entire plot was built on her doing obviously stupid things with little or no thought of the consequences, no plan, and no backup. Over and over and over.

Well, not the entire plot. A significant part of the plot was built on the hero - who's lived more than one human lifetime as a powerful warlock, and is smart and wise and generally savvy - doing an obviously stupid thing with no thought of the consequences, no plan, and no backup, and not telling anyone that he was going off to do it. Nobody in the entire book seems to have the strategic sense and insight of a three-day-old kitten.

The climax this time involves the heroine going into a dangerous situation inadequately prepared (again) and being rescued by basically every minor character in the book. Then her husband is lost, not dead exactly but separated from her in a realm that she can totally go to, as has been repeatedly established, and she falls into depression and apparently doesn't eat for three months, while her friends and family abandon her, completely out of character, to go on with their own happy endings. Then one day she wakes up and decides to go flying again.

There's also the "Chosen One refuses to learn how to use powers, won't listen to advice, suddenly uses powers at crisis moment" trope, though it's at least a little bit subverted by the fact that it's too little, too late, and her use of the powers isn't actually effective. The title "Oracle" implies to me that she's able to communicate revelations, but that doesn't seem to be what the oracle powers actually do; what they do is never really made completely clear, because she refuses to study, but it's not that. It's something to do with the barrier between the Light and Shadow worlds, instead.

On the upside, apart from the usual number of small slips this is well edited, and I at least didn't trip constantly over grammatical errors and misused words, as I usually do when reading steampunk. So there's that.

I received a copy via Netgalley for purposes of review. I also received a copy of the third book, but I've deleted it off my Kindle unread. This one was just too disappointing.

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