In Review: Clockwork Lives

Anderson and Peart have created a magnificent journey for Marinda. Recommended.

Clockwork Lives by Kevin J. Anderson and Neil Peart

Published by ECW Press on September 15, 2015. Hardcover of 400 pages at $24.95. 14 illustrations by Nick Robles. 

Note: I read an advance copy so anything may have changed by publication.

The cover: A deep red faux leather cover inland with gold highlights states the authors’ names and the title of book. The cogwheel design under the book’s title leads into rays that go to the bottom of the cover, hitting various symbols which are undoubtedly familiar to the characters that inhabit this steampunk universe. This cover is designed and illustrated by the interior illustrator, Nick Robles. The look and feel of this cover will instantly send readers into the world of the Watchmaker. Overall grade: A+

The premise: From the back cover, “‘Some lives can be summed up in a sentence or two. Other lives are epic.’ In the novel Clockwork Angels, #1 bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson and legendary Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart created a fabulous, adventurous steampunk world to accompany the smash Rush concept album of the same name. Clockwork Lives offers new adventures from that world of airships and alchemy, clockwork carnivals and pirates, lost cities and rigid rules. Marinda Peake is a woman with a quiet, perfect life in a small village. When her alchemist father dies, Marinda receives a mysterious inheritance: a blank book that she must fill with other people’s stories — and ultimately her own. Clockwork Lives is a steampunk Canterbury Tales, and much more, as Marinda embarks on a grand journey and strives to change her life from a mere ‘sentence or two’ to a true epic.” I enjoyed Clockwork Angels and hope that this book is as good. Overall grade: A

The characters: The protagonist of this novel is Marinda Peake, a young woman who has to go on a quest to fill the pages of the book Clockwork Lives, created by her dead father. Once acquiring a drop of blood from an individual and placing it on a blank page, the person’s life will be written. When all the pages are full she will receive her father’s home and her inheritance. Initially, Marinda thinks this will be easy and goes around her village collecting stories; however, some people’s lives only comprise a few sentences. She must venture outside the safety of her surroundings to find interesting people. As she gathers her tales, she also builds a life, so that her own adventures would comprise several pages. I really enjoyed her growth, especially in regards to how she views her mother, her father, and, the savior of the land, the Watchmaker, who makes a few brief, but memorable, appearances. The first story she collects is that of her father and she and the reader learn much about the dead man. The other characters whose tales are documented in this tale are extremely interesting, and rather than spoil them I will not relate them at all, save only mention my favorites: the Steamliner Pilot, Astronomer, Bookseller, and the Fortune-Teller. The main antagonist of this story would be Marinda’s fears as she goes out into the world. She does encounter two frightful individuals, seen in the previous novel, the Anarchist and the Watchmaker. The former is charming and quickly takes a turn, while the latter starts as a revered icon and ends up being a surprisingly bitter old man. I liked how some characters reappeared in other tales and locations, making it seem as if Marinda’s trip was part of the grand scheme of things. My favorite supporting character would have to be the individual that first appears on 339, for obvious reasons. Helped in no small part by the structure of this book, the writers have crafted several strong characters that could support their own novels. Overall grade: A+ 

The settings: Like a classic saga, the book opens in the quaint, cozy village of Lugtown — which is a sensational name for a rural village. Everyone knows everyone in this location, and serves as the perfect springboard for Marinda to exit. Her next location are the skies aboard an airship. The descriptions of this vehicle and its passengers are excellent. Had the writers stayed aboard for a longer stretch, I would have been happy. Crown City is the capital of this land and it’s described handsomely, though readers’ opinions will change after a visit to the Watchtower. After the previous book, I expected a return to the seas and Marinda does go there, as well as to Poseidon City, which remains a deliciously dark place full of rambunctious sailors and many criminal elements. The book ends in a new location that will remain unsaid to keep from spoiling it and its inhabitants. Every setting was wonderful. Overall grade: A+

The action: Although Marinda does engage in several adventures, most of the action comes from what others’ stories tell of the tellers’ lives. This doesn’t necessarily mean there is physical action, though there is with the Steamliner Pilot and the Pickpocket, but there is also psychological action, as characters try to better themselves or others, as with the Strongman, or those undergoing frightening changes, such as the Fortune-Teller. Without question, I was riveted to the conflicts that Marinda endures and those told in tales. Overall grade: A+

The conclusion: Before Marinda reaches her final location readers will have surmised how this book will end. I was completely satisfied with this conclusion, being the only possible way it could end. Overall grade: A+

The illustrations: Each tale that Marinda gathers is introduced with a full page illustration by Nick Robles showing a moment from the character’s tale. All are excellent, with my favorites being the Astronomer’s, the Bookseller’s, the Sea Captain’s, and, the best, the Fisherman’s. Should there be another Clockwork novel, I would hope to see Robles included. Overall grade: A 

The final line: Reading the first book is not necessary to enjoy this novel; it is in a completely different format than the previous book and is equally satisfying. Anderson and Peart have created a magnificent journey for Marinda and I’m glad they returned to this universe. In fact, after the pleasure this book brought to me, I would be disappointed if they did not return for further tales. Recommended. Overall grade: A+ 

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!” and he’s reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.

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