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The Impossible Cube: A Novel of the Clockwork Empire by Steven Harper
Review by Mel Jacob
Roc Mass Market Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451464507
Date: 01 May 2012 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Steven Harper continues his steampunk series begun in The Doomsday Vault with Gavin, Lady Alice, Feng, and Dr. Clef fleeing from the Third Ward Lieutenant Susan Phipps. She intends to return Gavin and Lady Alice to England for hanging.

Alice's Aunt Edwina had infected Gavin with the clockworker's plague. It leaves some with deformities and drives others mad with intense creativity until it kills them. The Third Ward has sought out the clockworkers and imprisoned them.

An iron gauntlet or spider Alice wears fills with her own blood that when used on clockwork plague victims, cures them. It does nothing for the mad ones like Gavin. When her aunt died, her body released a cloud of fireflies that bite others and inoculate them against the plague.

After Alice saves Gavin and they escape the Third Ward, they take Dr. Clef, the inventor of the Impossible Cube with them. They also acquire Feng Lung, son of the Chinese ambassador to England. His father wants him to return home, and Alice hopes the Chinese Dragonmen, clockworkers, may have a cure for Gavin. Without it, he will die in a short time. The Impossible Cube follows their progress and Phipps attempts to recapture them.

Clockworkers are valued and feared for their extreme creativity. Some create useful inventions, while others focus on war machines. Dr. Clef wants to control time. He has formed a bond with Gavin and knows both of them face limited lives. He is convinced his Impossible Cube will do that if only he can recreate it.

Trying to evade Phipps and her crew, they hide in a circus parade. Gavin knew the owner and begs his help. When Alice repairs his mechanical elephant, he agrees, despite the danger of letting them travel with the circus.

Alice wants to cure all the victims she encounters, but it takes her blood and saps her strength. During one such expedition to a hospital in the basement of a church, Lieutenant Phipps destroys the jar of captured fireflies eliminating them as an agent for stopping the plague although eventually the ones released earlier will spread. They barely escape and make it back to the circus. Desperate to hide the Lady of Liberty, Gavin's airship, they disguise it as a railcar for the circus train.

This novel is more episodic than The Doomsday Vault, but the focus on the characters and relationships helps. As travelers flee, some die. Most readers will look forward to the third volume of the Clockwork Empire now in preparation.

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