Reading level: Adult
Mass Market Paperback: 381 pages
Publisher: Roc Fantasy (Penguin Group)
Release date: November 1, 2011
Series: The Clockwork Empire #1
Reviewed by: Stéphanie
The Honorable Alice B. Michaels is in a life or death struggle for survival—socially speaking, that is. At twenty-one, her age, her unladylike interest in automatons, and the unfortunate deaths of most of her family from the plague have sealed her fate as a less than desirable marriage prospect.
But a series of strange occurrences are about to lead Alice in a direction quite beyond the pale. High above the earth on the American airship USS Juniper, Gavin Ennock lives for the wind and the sky and his fiddle. After privateers attack the Juniper, he is stranded on the dank, dirty, and merciless streets of London. When Alice’s estranged aunt leaves her a peculiar inheritance, she encounters Gavin under most unusual—even shocking—circumstances.
Then Alice’s inheritance attracts the attention of the Third Ward, a clandestine organization that seizes the inventions of mad geniuses the plague leaves behind—all for the good of the Empire. But even the Third Ward has secrets. And when Alice and Gavin discover them, a choice must be made between the world and the Empire, no matter the risk to all they hold dear.
Is it just me or is the steampunk genre becoming more popular these days? I’m not very familiar with the genre since I’ve only read a few books, but I think I’m becoming a true fan. So far, I’ve enjoyed all of the steampunk novels that I’ve read, and The Doomsday Vault is no exception.
Obviously set in a Victorian London, this novel takes us on an adventure through balls, pirate attacks, zombie attacks and crazy clockworker meltdowns. When I first started reading this book, I thought it was going to be a mix of steampunk and pure paranormal but the paranormal aspect is limited to zombies. The clockwork plague is what created these zombies, infecting people on contact and spreading the disease through the streets of London. However, some of the infected people don’t become zombies. Quite the opposite – they become clockworkers, geniuses with great analytical skills and the ability to create and invent remarkable things. In this world, Mozart was actually a clockworker, creating the most amazing music while infected by the disease in the last year of his life. Automatons, the many robots encountered in this book, were also invented by clockworkers. These geniuses remind me of autistic children who are evaluated as savants. Almost to intelligent, the clockworkers end up going through a meltdown as the disease kills them a few years of being infected.
I truly enjoyed the idea of the plague and the clockworkers, but I think it’s the main characters that really brought the story together. Soon to be Baroness Alice Michaels would love to be an independent, free thinking woman, but at twenty-one, she’s not getting any younger. Pressured by her father to look for a wealthy husband, she acts as the dutiful daughter and accepts the first marriage proposal she is offered. However, the only things that Alice likes about her new fiancé, Norbert, is his ability to pay off her father’s debts. Deep down, she knows her heart belongs to Gavin Ennock, a poor American airman stranded in London, that she saved from her aunt Edwina’s strange and dangerous house. The ever absent Edwina, who inspired Alice’s unrefined interest in automatons and engineering, has gone missing and Alice feels it’s her duty to find her.
But overall, my favorite character has to be Click, one of Alice’s automatons. In the shape of a cat, Click has humanlike qualities even if you find him licking his paws and illuminating dark halls with his bright green lights for eyes. Rarely saying anything, he still has a big part in this story. Automatons and machinery play a big part in the novel and Steven Harper had done a wonderful job in describing everything. Also, I believe he has thoroughly researched the physics of sound and music, a reoccurring and important element in the book.
Because I love the colours of this cover, I just need to say a few things about it. It’s actually the main thing that drew me to the book while I was browsing my library. I think the contrast between the yellow London fog and the sharp blue of her dress was a good choice. Of course the little elements like the automaton cat and the strange pistol are positive additions. I especially like the foggy background that includes the ever popular airship (dirigible) that seems to dominate the steampunk genre.
This novel has many layers and it guarantees you non-stop action. From science, to dirigibles, to politics, to social norms of Victorian England, I believe this book is the true definition of steampunk. A great start to an imaginative series, I strongly suggest this book to fans of the genre. Its sequel, The Impossible Cube, comes out in May 2012.