Friday, 10 January 2014

Book Review: The Clockwork Giant

One of my recent downloads of a book temporarily free for Kindle introduced me to a subgenre of sci-fi/fantasy whose existence (as a genre of its own) has so far escaped me: Steampunk.

When looking it up, I learn that the term has actually been around since 1987 – so not really all that new. I’ve probably even managed to read some books that might belong within it (like Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass) without coming across that particular label to unite them. I’m glad the word was mentioned in the Amazon introduction to this book, so that I could look it up and get a better idea of the whole genre.

Steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century's British Victorian era or American "Wild West", in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has regained mainstream use, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power. Steampunk perhaps most recognizably features anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era's perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art. Such technology may include fictional machines like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or the modern authors Philip Pullman, Scott Westerfeld, Stephen Hunt and China Miéville. [Wikipedia]

Thus somewhat prepared for what might await me, I started to read

The Clockwork Giant (Chroniker City series, book 1)
by Brooke Johnson

Petra Wade is a young woman who grew up as an orphan and is now working as shop-girl in a pawn-shop. However, she is also a self-taught clockwork engineer who dreams of becoming a certified member of the Guild. To achieve that, though, she’d need to go to University – and no women are accepted there.

Still, Petra refuses to give up; and when one day she meets a wealthy young engineer, Emmerich Goss, who takes a certain interest in her, opportunities begin to open up. Emmerich is working on an automaton with an intriguing design; just the kind of thing to set Petra’s brain working with ideas for improvements…

I have to say I quite liked the beginning of this book, and also the character of Petra; in spite of not really understanding a iota of the technology details. (Not blaming the author for this. Science was never really my “thing”.)

After having read about 30% of the book, and getting to the parts where things begin to literally steam up, also involving an increasingly greasy mix of romance and adventures among the subcity steam boilers and pipelines, I began to question whether it would really be worth my time to finish it – especially since I knew this book to be just the first in a series.

Petra rested her arms against the railing, breathing in the rich scents of coal, gasoline, and oil. Emmerich’s copper eyes were brighter than she had ever seen them, filled with an excitement she knew well. He felt the thrum of the machines in his chest, the whir of gears in his mind, the oscillations of linkages in his bones, and the hiss of steam in his lungs. Here, he was one with the machines, connected in the same way she was.

Johnson, Brooke. The Clockwork Giant (p. 70).  Kindle Edition.

At the same time, while both the romance and the engineering as such failed to fascinate me, I was still feeling just a little bit curious where it would be going in the end. So I decided to skim or speed-reed the rest of the book very quickly (skipping details and just trying to find the essential bits moving the story forward).

My conclusion at the end is that while this kind of book is not “my can of oil”, I still have to give the author some credit for her imagination and vivid descriptions. In my mind, I can see an action movie based on this book. It would probably require a very wealthy steampunk enthusiast to finance it, though!


  1. I find the theme of steampunk very interesting, but have not been able to finish a single book in that genre, just not for me.
    But I love steampunk jewelry.

    1. Janet, I don't even know what steampunk jewelry is!

  2. It won't surprise you that I have never heard of steampunk and that this sort of book is not up my street. However Phillip Pullman's trilogy His Dark Materials (North America: The Golden Compass) was, in my view, an absolutely superb read and held me enthralled from beginning to end.

    1. I remember from discussions in the past that we do not quite agree in our appreciation of that series. I doubt it would have helped me much (at the time when I read it) to have had it categorized as steampunk either. However, seeing it listed as such now, and comparing it to the book reviewed here, did sort of make a cog or two in my brain click... To do with the use of 'alternative history' in this genre of fiction.


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