The city of Ondinium clings to the side of a mountain where the rare and precious metal that the city is named for is mined. This substance is lighter than air and is used to create the marvels that the city is known for, including the huge clockwork engine that lives in the heart of the mountain. The castes of Ondinium live on separate tiers of the mountain with the lower castes occupying the sooty smog-filled expanse at the bottom. But Taya, whose family comes from the lowest caste, is an Icarus, a courier who straps on ondinium wings and freely flies up and down the mountain, without caste constraints. When Taya saves the lives of an Exalted’s family, she becomes embroiled in political intrigues that involve theft, terrorism, murder, computer hacking, and romance. And she doesn’t know whom she can trust.
Dru Pagliassotti’s steampunk setting is fascinating and Taya, who flies with metal wings, makes a unique and likeable heroine. She’s strong and independently minded, yet she cares what people think about her and treats others with respect. She is not the usual tattooed sarcastic kickass urban fantasy heroine. Taya’s love interests are a pair of brothers; Alister is a gregarious computer programmer who fully embraces his role as an Exalted on the city council while Cristof, the introverted brother, shuns his class and prefers to make clocks and gadgetry in the lower tier of the city. Both are appealing characters, as is the harmless political dissident whom Taya used to date.
I loved the first half of Clockwork Heart as we were introduced to the city, its citizens, and its political and social issues. There’s some excellent world-building here, a nice set of characters, and plenty of action. I was fascinated by the Great Engine in the mountain and the way it was programmed with old-fashioned tin punch cards.
Clockwork Heart falls a little short when it comes to plot and pacing, especially in the second half of the novel. After the big climax, the story continues on too long, gradually losing steam (pun intended!) and occasionally flip-flopping between the realms of the predictable and the unlikely. I anticipated some of the plot twists and didn’t believe in some of the others. A new subplot involving a group of computer programmers was suddenly brought in, but it should have been left out. It felt like Pagliassotti couldn’t decide between two different endings for the novel so she decided to include both, to poor effect. Even with that complaint, though, I enjoyed Clockwork Heart and its characters enough that I’d like to read more in this world.
I listened to Kate Rudd narrate Brilliance Audio’s version of Clockwork Heart. I always like Kate Rudd when she reads a book with a young female protagonist, though she tends to overdo the angst. This is noticeable in the more intense parts of Clockwork Heart, but it’s not enough to keep me from recommending this version.