The Dragon Men: A Novel of the Clockwork Empire
by Steven Harper
Review by Mel Jacob
Roc Mass Market Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451464880
Date: 06 November 2012 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
The Dragon Men is the conclusion of the Clockwork Empire series. In this third steampunk novel, Gavin Encock, Alice Lady Michaels, and Susan Phipps, travel to China to seek a cure for the clockwork plague and save Gavin from madness and death. Alice has the ability to cure the plague in its early stages, but not for Gavin.
After Alice released the plague cure in England and Europe, no more clockworkers were available to develop new weapons or inventions. That left China the only nation with clockworkers. They don't want the plague cured. Clockworkers are revered and cherished there, but also controlled via golden salamanders they are forced to wear.
Alice soon learns the Chinese have placed a price on her head. People along the route Alice and Gavin travel toward China are determined to collect the reward. A clockworker who has created an army of squid man-like creatures attacks and captures them. Gavin manages to escape and is determined to reclaim his airship and rescue Alice and Susan.
Another story parallels Alice's search for a cure for Gavin. In China, the Imperial Concubine and mother of the emperor's only child, Cixi, tries to survive court intrigues and have her son declared the emperor's heir. However, when the emperor falls ill and dies, his general takes over the throne, and she and her son are forced to flee.
Harper manages to move the story to an exciting climax. He also manages to bring in bits of Easter philosophies for a satisfying ending, but not before making his characters suffer a bit. This novel pushed the envelope a lot, but most readers will find it acceptable. Earlier titles in the trilogy are The Doomsday Vaultt and The Impossible Cube.