Thursday, January 29, 2009

Clockwork Heart - Dru Pagliassotto

Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotto is one of the best books I've read in ages. It deserves to be a bestseller, and not just in the SF/Fantasy niche market. I want to run through book stores thrusting copies of the book into unsuspecting shopper's hands.

It is just that good.

It is also a book that is hard to categorize. Is it SF? Is it Fantasy? Is it Romance? Is it intrigue? Is it all of the above rolled into one with great big steampunk ball? Yes, but don't let that spook you. All the elements are balanced just right.

This is the story of Taya, an icarus, or courier who uses wings made of the mysterious lighter-than-air metal, ondinium, to soar over the city of the same name. Ondinium has a rigid cast esystem, children are placed in their caste at a young age, after being evaluated by the Great Engine that is the City's heart, literaly as well as philosophically. Those with the temperament and constitution to become Icarii move freely around the city, and live outside the caste system. Taya has aspirations toward becoming a diplomat. One day she rescues a young high caste woman and her son from a terrorist bomb, and her plans for her future are forever changed. Things are not as placid in Ondinium as it would seam on the surface. Taya is thrown together with two highborn brothers, one handsome, brilliant, and charismatic politician, the other a quiet surly, but earnest, outcast. Both brothers have radical ideas about the future of the city they love. Both, might kill to see their ideas become reality.

That just scratched the surface of the storyline in this book. Pagliassoto's world-building is super. She shows us this world from unexpected angles with well rounded secondary characters ranging from an aspiring couture dress designer who's only goal is life is snaging an upper caste patron,, to elite Engine programmers dipping their fingers into radical politics. She does a fantastic job of putting the reader into the city of Ondinium, but unlike some writers she does not stop with world-building. The plot twists and turns enough to keep any reader guessing what will happen next, and the end, although not a big pink spun-sugar bow, is satisfying enough for a Romance fan looking for a HEA.

I think the strength of this book is it's straddling half a dozen genre. It is a prime example of literary hybrid vigor. Unfortunately that may also scare strict genre readers away, andit makes the book hard to market. It will probably keep the book from both the sales and the award nominations it so richly deserves. I read all the Hugo nominees for 2008, and I like several of them very well, but when it comes to texture, storytelling and originality Clockwork Heart blows them all out of the water .


Kimber An said...

Awesome review, Mary!

CLOCKWORK HEART really appealed to me because it criss-crosses so many genres. I love that. However, I had a hard time getting into it because I'd reached my saturation point with Taya's character type by the time I started trying to read it. If she'd been black or a single mom or under twenty or over forty or accidentally flew into buildings because she was distracted by really cute slave boys below or had a snarky come-back for every dimwit she ran into or...whatever, I would have been hooked. I'm a very character-driven reader and Thaya just wasn't original enough for me. Her job certainly was! But, not her.

The world-building is absolutely the best I've read in a long, long time! And, like I said, I love and support multi-genre books. The world needs more of 'em! When Thaya flew, I felt like I was flying too and I could smell the city below.

Mfitz said...

I liked Taya because she wasn't a kick-butt Buffy clone, as so many female characters are these days. I am just sick to death of smart mouthed twenty somethings with itchy trigger fingers who get their jollies beating the snot out of bad guys while tossing off flip, not as clever as they seem to think they are comments.

Taya is earnest and unsure of herself, she is hard working, and honest, and she makes some really stupid mistakes. She has to pay for her mistakes, unlike so many too perfect female character these days who never seem to suffer from the mistakes they make. I think I liked her because she was so white-bread normal. She is not a MarySue, but I agree she isn't really a stand out original.

The character I really loved, the one that make the book come alive for me was Cristof. He's prickly and unpleasant, and he's difficult person to love without being the typical dark and tragic rebel-with-out-a-cause bad-boy type. He felt very real to me.

The secondary characters are superbly drawn, and Dru Pagliassotti picks an unexpected mix of people as important secondary characters which is why the world feels so well rounded and fleshed out.

Kimber An said...

Oh, yeah, Buffy-clones! (Kimber gags) I am so sick of generic kick-butt heroines, I swear. I don't blame the authors though. Once one kind of story does well, publishers flood the market with more just like it. Guess it works, because they keep doing it. But, me, I'm a buffet kind of girl.

Heather said...

Great review! I especially like your term "literary hybrid vigor." Well said.

I think word of mouth is so important for books like CLOCKWORK HEART because they don't get the push that books from the big publishers do (e.g., Jay Lake's MAINSPRING is a steampunk fantasy but based on your review and what I've read of CLOCKWORK HEART, it could give MAINSPRING a run for its money).

Multi-genre books are going to increase, not decrease, so perhaps it won't be long before a new system of book classification evolves, one that highlights all the wonderful blends instead of leaving the reader to guess what they are.

Mfitz said...

I thought Mainspring started out with a bang but the plot became episodic and just sort of petered out toward the end. The world building was fantastic throughout, the setting was very original, and well drawn, but the characters were inconsistant, and about half way through the book started to feel more like a travelogue, than a novel to me. Although things did come together at the very end the final third seemed to wandered aimlessly from one "golly gee whiz!" setting to another with no real plot driven reason.

Heather said...

Yeah, I agree with your assessment, lol! I think the field for character driven steampunk stories, say, with a *romance* are wide open!

Kimber An said...

Hmm, Steampunk with romance...I'll see what I can do.