Clockwork Heart: A blend of genres that works

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Dru Pagliassotti Clockwork HeartClockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti

I really don’t know what sort of story this is. It’s an adventure, it’s a mystery, it’s a crime novel, and a romance kind of all throw into one.  It’s a complex blend of genres all set in a different world where technology is far behind our modern times in many respects, but has been carefully enough thought out that it makes sense.

At the center of the story is a young woman who works as an Icarus — basically the equivalent of a bicycle messenger, only state-sponsored and with wings instead of a bike. The setting is a city-state that supports a caste system of governance. Again, pretty well thought out and not too complicated. Taya, that main character, is a free-spirited, intelligent, unknowingly pretty protagonist who is drawn into a convoluted series of plots because she happens to be in the right place at the right time to save a woman and child who are members of the highest caste.

Taya is pretty well written and, as is often the case with female main characters in fantasy works, she blends an interesting combination of stubbornness, willfulness, and outright luck. She makes mistakes and causes problems for herself and others, and this makes her believable as a character. She is surrounded by a variety of supporting characters that fill their respective places in the story fairly well. No glaringly out of place supporting cast in this book.

The story follows a fairly quick pace and covers a variety of settings. It’s not quite an action/adventure book, but there’s enough action to pace the slower social scenes. On the whole, it’s well blended. I honestly felt more like I was reading an urban fantasy novel, but the setting is not modern.

If you’re looking for traditional epic fantasy, this is not it. If you are willing to try something that carries hints of fantasy with no real magic or knights in shining armor, then this is worth the trip. It’s not too long and feels in no way like it’s the beginning of another series. Kudos to the author for that!

Clockwork Heart was good, but not something I would drop the latest Kim Harrison to read.

~John Hulet


book review Dru Pagliassotti Clockwork HeartThe 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.

~Kat Hooper

Clockwork Heart — (2008-2014) Publisher: A steampunkish romantic fantasy set in Ondinium, a city that beats to the ticking of a clockwork heart. Taya, a metal-winged courier, can travel freely across the city’s sectors and mingle indiscriminately among its castes. A daring mid-air rescue leads to involvement with two scions of an upperclass family and entanglement in a web of terrorism, loyalty, murder, and secrets.

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JOHN HULET (on FanLit's staff July 2007 -- March 2015) is a member of the Utah Army National Guard. John’s experiences have often left a great void that has been filled by countless hours spent between the pages of a book lost in the words and images of the authors he admires. During a 12 month tour of Iraq, he spent well over $1000 on books and found sanity in the process. John lives in Utah and works slavishly to prepare soldiers to serve their country with the honor and distinction that Sturm Brightblade or Arithon s’Ffalenn would be proud of. John retired from FanLit in March 2015 after being with us for nearly 8 years.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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2 comments

  1. I had the same feeling when I read this several years ago. It is a very interesting world.

  2. There’s a sequel coming out sometime…

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