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Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliasotti

October 28, 2010

Publisher: Juno Books

Publication Date: April 1, 2008

Format: Mass market paperback

Status: First in the Clockwork Heart Series (of how many I do not know)

Source: Purchased by self

Genre: Steampunk

Other Info: Check out Pagliasotti’s website. It’s cool and it’s definitely worth a look for the Steampunk lovers.

Description: (From the back cover):

Taya soars over Ondinium on metal winds. She is an icarus–a courier privileged to travel freely across the city’s sectors and mingle indiscriminately among its castes. But even she can’t outfly the web of terrorism, loyalty, murder, and intrigue that snares her after a daring mid-air rescue. Taya finds herself entangled with the Folore brothers, scions of an upperclass family: handsome, brilliant Alister, who sits on the governing council and writes programs for the Great Engine; and awkward, sharp-tongued Cristof, who has exiled himself from his caste and repairs clocks in Ondinium’s lowest sector. Both hide dangerous secrets, in this city that beats to the ticking of a clockwork heart…

This book was my reward for suffering through the two disasters that were Big Bad Wolf and Witch Heart. I can hardly believe that I owned it for as long as I did without gorging myself on it. The only thing I can say in my own defense is that it took me so long to find it that I’d forgotten why I’d been looking for it in the first place. Then I read The Iron Duke and loved it so much I was driven to check out Meljean Brook’s blog. Brook had a Steampunk Romance week on her blog, to celebrate the publication of The Iron Duke, and Clockwork Heart was mentioned on the first day. It made me sit and up and say, “I have that book!” So I went and dug it out of my TBR pile and got to work. And may I say that I’ve never been so pleased to put my nose to the grindstone.

Clockwork Heart takes place in the fictional city of Ondinium. Ondinium is half Victorian London, half San Francisco. It’s built on a hill and has three sectors: Tertius, Secondus and Primus. I imagined it as resmebling a three-tiered cake. The three sectors of Ondinium can be summed up respectively: Upper Class, Middle Class, Lower Class. Primus is the home of the exalted, a group of wealthy individuals who, according to Ondinium beliefs, have been reincarnated because they have earned an “exalted” life. The exalteds appear in public in heavy robes with ceramic masks concealing their faces. They also wear castemarks on their faces, tattoo-like symbols of their high status. Secondus is home to the middle class people and Tertius houses the working class and the very poor. The two main characters of Clockwork Heart come from the polar ends of Ondinium. Cristof is an outcaste, an exalted who has eschewed the robes and mask of his caste. He lives and works in Tertius. The heroine, Taya, was born in Tertius, but chosen to be an icarus. Icarii are messengers who fly with metal wings that are loaded with ondium, the lighter-than-air metal that makes flight possible. Because of her profession, Taya has a unique position in the segregated Ondinium. She moves freely between the three sectors and is basically outside of the caste system. She also has a great deal of personal freedom that is not allowed other women, particularly exalteds.

The story begins with Taya saving an exalted woman and her son from a wireferry accident. Taya’s heroic act brings her to the attention of the Forlore family: Alister, Cristof and their cousin, Viera and Viera’s husband Caster. Alister and Cristof are brothers who have chosen vastly different paths in life. You know Cristof’s story–he’s an outcaste. Alister is the smooth, charming and handsome brother with the political career. From the first, Alister attracts Taya. The two go out on a date, but before anything can develop between them, Alister dies in another wireferry accident that also claims Caster.

Shocked, dismayed and regretting having held Alister off for as long as she did, Taya at first believes that Cristof is responsible, not knowing that Cristof suspects the same about her. When Taya and Cristof are able to move beyond blaming each other, they decide to work together to find Alister and Caster’s killers. Their investigation both brings them together and involves them in more intrigue than they knew.

Taya is a refreshing heroine. She’s strong-minded and strong-willed, but without being obnoxious. She’s not feisty and outspoken. She takes care of herself, not just physically, but emotionally. I also liked that though she was independent it didn’t mean she was too stupid to live. Taya has a romantic past but she’s not tortured or hindered by it. I liked that.

Cristof, by contrast, more dysfunctional. He’s closed-off and rude, but you know right away that he’s the one for Taya, if for no other reason that things between Taya and Alister would be too easy. Plus, it’s not hard to see that Alister is a charmer and that he uses his charm for effect. He knows what his looks and his station can get him–and he doesn’t hesitate to take advantage of that. I kind of didn’t want Taya to fall for Alister’s schtick at all–even though I admire her for seeing him clearly in an admirably short amount of time. Anyway, books have shown us that the charmer is unreliable time after time. Hm, that makes me want to read a book where the hero is the charmer and not his unpleasant-at-first-glance counterpart.

As for the plot, it’s intricate, but I knew who the villains were pretty early on. The attraction of this novel is that knowing didn’t take away from the story. I still wanted to see how events evolved. I wanted to see how the characters would react–because I found that it wasn’t always predictable. I also really liked the world-building. I had an image in my mind of what Ondinium was like, how it looked and how it functioned. It’s probably completely unlike Pagliassotti’s, but I don’t care. The best novels are the ones that exercise your imagination–and Clockwork Heart really accomplished that. However, as easily as I was able to put myself into Ondinium, I had a harder time imagining the Great Engine–and all the other engines in Taya’s world. I sort of imagined that they resembled ENIAC, but also the inside of a ginormous clock from some animated movie I can’t remember. You know, all the gears and stuff. But I also didn’t really have a great grasp on how the engines worked, or how the punch cards fit in. This is probably because my mind is so not analytical. I run screaming from anything that smacks of engineering or–worse–computer science. There’s no way to get my brain to shut down faster.

I also have to give Pagliassotti props for her secondary characters. There’s quite a cast of them, along with a few secondary romances that added extra flavor. Plus, each character that came into the novel was interesting, and had depth. I could picture them all. The only exception to this was Taya’s family. They make brief appearances at the beginning and end of the book, but nothing inbetween. I think this is because Taya’s calling as an icarus meant she was separated from her family at a young age. Also, her status as someone outside the caste made it harder for her to relate to her Tertius-based family. Still, as someone who is so closely tied to her family, I couldn’t help wanting Taya to be more connected to them. It’s probably for a reason, though, that Taya’s closest ties are with other icarii. I don’t know. It still bothered me.

I glad that Meljean Brook reminded me about Clockwork Heart. It was a great book, and a great Steampunk Romance. I was excited to learn that Dru Pagliassotti is writing another Clockwork Heart book (currently called Clockwork Heart #2). According to her website, it’s in her agent’s hands. No date yet, but it’s already made my TBR list.

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