Clockwork Heart, by Dru Pagliassotti (Juno Books, 2008)

One of the greatest cities in the world is Ondinium, an industrialized city built on a mountain. Its people divided into several castes, its every function determined by the clockwork Great Engine and various lesser calculating machines, it’s a city unlike any other. Metal-winged icarii deliver messages, run errands, and occasionally function as search and rescue, able to travel between the sectors of the city and mingle with all the castes as their jobs require. One such icarus is Taya, a bold young woman who lives for the opportunity to fly, dreaming of a day when she might join the Diplmatic Corps and travel abroad.

But Ondinium is also a city of political intrigue, hidden agendas, industrial espionage and not-so-quiet rebellion. When sabotage strikes of the city’s wireferries, Taya flies to the rescue, an action which brings her to the attention of several of the exalted caste. Alister, one of the city’s ruling decaturs and a programmer for the Great Engine, seeks to woo her with words and courteous actions, while his brother Cristof, an outcaste misfit who gave up his mask and robe to serve as a simple clock repairman, barely cares if Taya lives or dies. Unfortunately, when another act of sabotage claims the lives of some of Ondinium’s greatest citizens, Taya and Cristof have to put aside their differences and work together to figure out what’s happening to their city. Who’s behind the bombings and murders and other acts of mayhem? Who stands to benefit, and who would dare interfere with the smooth functioning of the Great Engine itself? What person close to them can’t be trusted? They’ll risk their lives in every part of the city, from the slums of Slagside to the heart of the Great Engine, in order to avenge the deaths and protect Ondinium. But will it be enough?

Clockwork Heart is an absolutely fascinating, highly original, thoroughly memorable romantic fantasy, and one of the best books I’ve seen out of the Juno line to date. The clockwork city of Ondinium has a steampunkish retro-nifty vibe to it, and I was utterly intrigued by the way the setting was presented. A city on the verge of technological explosion, obsessed by clockwork gears and early analytical engines, like something Nikola Tesla and Charles Babbage might dream up after a heavy drinking session, where metal-winged couriers flit from one area to the next… what’s not to like? The imagery involved makes for brillians spectacle.

The characters themselves are believable, with Taya being satisfyingly bold and independent, defying expectations and conventions even as she defies gravity on a daily basis. The brothers Forlore – Alister and Cristof – make for interesting reading, and what at first seem to be fairly predictable attributes and actions for them soon turn out to be more than one would expect. In fact, neither one hews to the initial impressions or ultimate fate one might project for them, even after applying romantic conventions to the awkward triangle formed once Taya enters the mix. There were several pleasant and not-so-pleasant surprises to be found as the story progressed.

The plot itself has plenty of twists, from the predictable to the shocking, and it all comes together with a very nice payoff at the end. Taya and Cristof make a great team as they investigate the various threads that comprise the story’s primary mystery, and I was definitely pleased when I couldn’t predict just what was going to happen for most of the book. I’d have to say that Dru Pagliassotti really hit one out of the ballpark with Clockwork Heart, and I’ll keep my eyes open for more by her. Clockwork Heart works both as romantic and regular fantasy, with its true strength being the unique setting presented within its pages. I hope we’ll get to see more of this world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>