I'd seen this book mentioned a couple of times online but for some reason I had labelled it in my mind as not so intriguing until I read a review at the Book Smugglers blog (they gave it a 9 - "damn near perfection"). I put it on my books to read list at that point but I wasn't salivating over it like some other books.
A couple of weekends ago, my husband and I decided to go for a walk and ended up at Barnes and Noble. I saw a copy of Clockwork Heart and picked it up. I started reading a few pages. At first some of the terminology confused me. What's a wireferry? Lictors? Decator? Icarus? I would read for a bit then go back a page or two to reread something to understand a bit better. But the story itself started out in the middle of some action, so I was already interested.
The premise: This story starts when a metal car suspended by wires starts to tumble towards the ground as our heroine was stopping nearby for lunch. Taya is a citizen of Ondinium, a city divided into castes, "Primus for the exalteds; Secundus for the cardinals; and Tertius, for the plebians". Taya herself is an icarus, someone who trained to fly with wings made out of the metal ondium (which is lighter than air), and who is allowed to freely pass between the city's sections. She and her kind are messagers as well as trained for search and rescue, so of course Taya jumps into action to help the two passengers in the falling metal car. This chance encounter pushes Taya into the world of the exalteds and soon she is caught up in betrayals and political plots happening within the city. In particular, Taya is sucked into the world of two brothers - Cristof and Alister Forlore. Alister is the gracious, charming one who works as a decator (I translated this to something like - minister/politician), and Cristof is the gruff, abrupt one who works as a clockmaker.
By page 20 I was hooked. 50 pages in and I had the terminology down. I could not stop reading! And how did I miss Angie's pimping it too? She only put it on her best of 2008 list! I really chastized myself for not having this book on my radar earlier.
What I really loved was the world building. I have a very basic idea of steampunk so I came into this book with no expectations and was just blown away at the images of Ondinium while I was reading this book - from a city with winding, intricate streets, to the costumes of members of the different castes, and all the little nooks and crannies in between like the interesting things in Alister's crowded, paper filled office and in Cristof's watch shop. I also enjoyed the idea of card-punch computing (old-school!) being a large part of the plot and a system built upon this that is used to help run Ondinium. It was fantastic! The cherry on the top of all this was the slow moving romance that did not take over the book and worked alongside the mystery of what is going on in Ondinium.
The only negatives I can think of for this story were very minor. One was that at times I ran into a few typos like repeated phrases next to each other and missing words. I'm not really the most observant person about this type of thing so when I do catch it I figure others will. The other comment I had was on the ending well there was a really satisfying HEA for the romance, but the mystery part somehow didn't tie up to my complete satisfaction. The reveal was a bit of a surprise (when I mull this over I think that perhaps I was distracted by red herrings thrown in by the author), and yet WHY also didn't fully make sense to me. Maybe I expected to understand the reasons for the villains' actions more fully than was presented.
Overall: Already one of my favorite reads of this year, I think it's a shoo in for my best of 2009 list. This combines fantasy, steampunk, romance, action, and intrigue into something new and fresh. If you are the least bit interested go find this book. I was so addicted I just read this straight for hours and when I came up for air I was disoriented about how much time had passed.
I'd compare the romance aspect to Sandra McDonald's The Outback Stars (where the hero isn't exactly who you'd think he'd be at first, and there's caste/rank issues, but he turns out to be more compatible and honorable than other characters seem to allow), and the world building to Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age or Snow Crash (this blew me away like those books did).
This is the debut novel by this author, however she has published some short stories. Dru Pagliassotti is currently working on a sequel to Clockwork Heart tentatively titled Obstruction Currents. According to her blog she's also working on another (unrelated) novel called King's Monster. Which means no backlog for me to glom onto, and I have to wait for the next book. Meanwhile, new author to stalk and put on the auto-buy list. I'm excited to read whatever comes out next!
P.S Yes it really does kind of look like Leelee Sobieski on the cover.
Originally posted on janicu.vox.com