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Book: “Clockwork Boys” by T. Kingfisher
Publishing Info: Argyll Productions, November 2017
Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!
Book Description: A paladin, an assassin, a forger, and a scholar ride out of town. It’s not the start of a joke, but rather an espionage mission with deadly serious stakes. T. Kingfisher’s new novel begins the tale of a murderous band of criminals (and a scholar), thrown together in an attempt to unravel the secret of the Clockwork Boys, mechanical soldiers from a neighboring kingdom that promise ruin to the Dowager’s city.
If they succeed, rewards and pardons await, but that requires a long journey through enemy territory, directly into the capital. It also requires them to refrain from killing each other along the way! At turns darkly comic and touching, Clockwork Boys puts together a broken group of people trying to make the most of the rest of their lives as they drive forward on their suicide mission.
Review: Back again with another T. Kingfisher book! What can I say? When I find an author I enjoy, their back catalog is sure to show up for a decent amount of time going forward! I was particularly excited to start this book as not only is it the first in a duology but there appear to be several other books set in the same world. Up to this point, everything I’ve read by Kingfisher has been a stand-alone, so I was excited to see how she handled an ongoing story across two books.
In a classic fantasy version of “Suicide Squad,” a bunch of former criminals are set off on a suicide mission as a last ditch effort by a kingdom on the brink of destruction by mysterious magical forces. Nothing to be lost there, right? Nothing unless you happen to be one of the criminals sent out on said mission. And so we follow the story of a forger, an assassin, a disgraced (kind of possessed?) paladin, and a very sexist scholar. But as this group of oddballs march down certain death, they begin to discover they may have something worth living for after all.
There comes a point when I’ve read enough by an author that I know going in that, sparing some extreme aberration, I’m going to enjoy the book in hand. Mostly this comes down to a style of writing. A strong author is rarely going to put out a bad book when they have such a solid handle on the basics. Excellent characters? Check. Fun and snappy writing? Check. Unique world and magical systems? Check. Kingfisher has it all. All of that to spoil the end of the review and say I really enjoyed this book.
This was the first book from her I’ve read, however, that featured a multi-POV style of writing and a band of characters at the center. Of course, Kingfisher’s characters are one of the strongest things she has going for her as a writer, so I was confident she would handle it well. And indeed she does. It helps that we really only spend time in the head of Slate, the master forger, and Sir Caliban, the somewhat-demon-possessed paladin. They each have distinct arcs that they begin to travel along in this book (presumably to be concluded in the second book). And theirs is the focus of a brewing romance.
I really enjoyed them both, but their banter and interactions together is what really made them jump from the page. Slate’s eyerolling at Caliban’s seemingly uncontrollable chivalry; Caliban’s attempts to reconcile that same chivalry with the reality that a strong woman such as Slate might be more offended than pleased by some of his efforts. It’s also nice that they’re both full adult characters, well into their thirties and with the history and hang-ups that go with that. This isn’t love’s first blush for either of them, and it makes their slow-burn romance all the more appealing.
I also really liked the other characters, though we didn’t spend any time in their heads really. The sexist scholar, the one most would rightly be skeptical of enjoying, was quick to grow on me given the amused scoffing that Slate sends his way at his more ridiculous moments. The Learned Edmund also quickly grows to realize that his opinions don’t hold up outside his cloistered halls of learning. I also really liked the assassin. Can you have a more threatening ex staring down a newly forming relationship than an assassin?
The story itself was also fast-moving and interesting. The clockwork boys only showed up briefly, but it was easy to understand the threat they posed. There is also a mysterious plague that is….plaguing….the country. As well as several other mini adventures that our gang must work through on their journey.
As far as pacing goes, while it was a fast read, it did seem to end abruptly. It’s a shorter book, and ultimately it read almost like the first half of one book that was mysteriously broken into two volumes. I guess I’ll see how the second half works, but I do wonder why this decision was made? Fantasy novels are known to be long, so I can’t imagine the total page length of the two books would have been that bad. And I suspect that the story as a whole would have been better served presented in this way. As it is, while I enjoyed the heck out of this book, it did read like part of a story rather than a complete work on its own. Even books that are part of a series should read as individual pieces on their own, with beginnings, middles, and ends and with themes and completed arcs.
So, that being the case, I already have the second book in hand and will likely jump into that soon. Fans of Kingfisher’s work will likely enjoy this one, but make sure to have easy access to the second book as this one definitely ends in a way that doesn’t feel completely finished.
Rating 8: Fun and feisty, though perhaps a bit incomplete with out the second book attached with it.
“Clockwork Boys” can be found on this Goodreads list: Books With ‘Boy’ in the Title