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Mainspring by Jay Lake
Review by Steve Sawicki
Tor Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0765317087
Date: 12 June 2007 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Interview with tthe Author (Coming in June) / Clockpunk Definition by Jay Lake / Show Official Info /

Noted short story author Jay Lake's "Clockpunk" novel is a fabulous and fabulistic tale of a clockwork universe where the heart of the world is winding down, and a young man, a clockmaker's apprentice, must journey to the world's end to restore it. Set against an alternative Victorian era, where the world runs on brass tracks in the heavens and Her Majesty's Airships roam, if not quite rule, the skies, it's a brilliant saga of a hero's journey to find a lost artifact of the "Clockwork Christ" needed to restore the mainspring and stop the world's slippage into chaos and destruction. A brilliant novel, and the herald of great things to come.

When the angel Gabriel appears in apprentice clockmaker Hethor Jaques' room no amount of eye shutting or wishful thinking could make it go away. Instead, it charges Hethor with a duty, one only he can perform. The mainspring of the world is running down, and someone must find the "key perilous" and start it back up again. In this strange clockwork universe we discover that Gabriel isn't talking metaphor, or mostly not, but that there really is a mainspring for the world, and of late it's been well, running late. Hethor begins his quest by searching for more information. In the process he runs afoul of the master clockmaker's sons, discovers that the clockwork universe is more complex than he ever thought and gains allies in strange places. Hethor's journeys take him from the shores of New Haven to the docks of Boston and ultimately to the wall that divides the world. Along the way he must figure out for himself who is a friend and who an enemy, pushed, the entire time, by the slowing spin of the world.

Jay Lake can certainly come up with an interesting premise and here he has created an alternate universe that runs on gears and cogs and where God's methods are clear to see and hear. Lake overlays this clockwork structure onto Christianity, supposing a universe that actually was constructed by God. Imagine one of those old Victorian models of the solar system where, as you turned the handle, the planets moved on their gears and you've pretty much imagined Lake's universe. This can be dicey stuff, as I found myself at times annoyed with the analogies and wishing Lake had just gone ahead and created a religion to go along with the universe rather than using one that already existed.

Lake has a way with characters that provides you with a lot of information in a few short words. His characters seem aptly suited to the world he has created as do all of the other artifacts and creatures that live there. The pace is a fairly quick one with Hethor moving rapidly from the first visitation to being off on the adventure of his life. I found the concept interesting and the plot and narrative focused. The book is entertaining and fun to read. If you are only familiar with Lake's short work then you will definitely enjoy this as well.

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