Title: Beyond Clockwork
Author: Jennifer Cierra
Publisher: JMS Books
Characters: Ian, Terrin
Sub-Genre: Steampunk, Fantasy
Pinocchio never had to deal with rusty gears. He probably never had to deal with broken hearts, either.
In the city of the Young Queens, magic abounds alongside mechanics. Terrin Shore, the Clockmaker of the southern slums, likes to consider himself a master craftsman, but he can’t deny that his dolls are endowed with a certain veracity. He stopped making wind-up toys years ago, yet his dolls still move, speaking and interacting with such grace and humanity that he is tempted to forget they’re false. He makes a living from his skills, selling dolls to aristocrats and nobles with gold to spare.
Ian is Terrin’s most lifelike doll. Crafted in such detail that he can pass for human at a casual glance, he was made in the image of Terrin’s closest friend, master thief Christiansen Townsend. Ian, however, is not Christiansen. He has a personality and attitude of his own, along with a rebellious streak. Despite his artificiality, he is head over heels in love with Terrin. Still, he knows how unlikely it is a doll-maker will fall in love with a doll.
When Christiansen is injured while fleeing from the city’s peacekeeping officers, Ian has a choice to make. Does he stand back and let Christiansen be submitted to the Young Queens’ justice, where the thief will likely be executed? Or will he sacrifice himself for Terrin’s and Christiansen’s happily ever after? And is that even what Terrin really wants?
Told in first person from Ian’s, the doll’s, point of view, we’re given a glimpse into the insights of an artificial life form who is in love with his maker, Terrin. Ian is lifelike in almost every sense, fooling onlookers even though he’s made of mostly wood. The problem is, Ian got his face from a notorious thief, Christansen, who Terrin is apparently in love with. Add to this all the madness and intrigue going about in town, and you have a fantastical mess in your hands.
The world-building here shines. In fact, for such a short story this is so full of a detailed fantasy world that it would have been better served by a longer narrative. As is, we don’t learn enough, and our wetted appetites are hungrier once finished. In any case, first there’s Terrin who years ago created monstrous mechanical monsters that destroyed most of the town, and as a result Terrin is exiled to the clocktower, never allowed to leave. Second, the rulers of this town are called Young Queens, scary, undead, ice-magical little girls who by the hundreds rule over the town with an icy fist. Third, there’s a simmering rebellion against them, led by Christiansen, and an impending war with another nation whose merchant lords scheme and plot in the shadows. One of them, Dawnbringer, brings Terrin’s doll creations into the mix of all that dystopian craziness—including Ian who sacrifices himself to save his beloved maker and the man he is in love with so at least the living could have their happy ever after.
Ian is a wonderful character. He’s smart, mouthy, irreverent, and hopelessly in love. Because of that he’s capable of more than he ever imagined, from sullen tantrums to acts of great bravery and love. When a four-year old girl is threatened by the Queens, to be taken into their undead cold ranks, Ian acts regardless of his own safety. It makes sense to use his first person POV because we get the intricacies of this dark, terrible world from the point of view of a doll, a creation who doesn’t know why his maker even created him. Just a squeeze-toy, or is he more? Then again, how can he be more for Terrin if he doesn’t even have the right… equipment?
The negative here, in addition to the overall shortness and the alarming pace with which everything happens, was the dialogue. Specifically cursing. Every time one of the characters cursed, it didn’t sound natural. It took me right out of the story, unfortunately. The cursing just didn’t fit the overall story, not into this world so carefully crafted. Other than that, the writing is sensually evocative, emotionally potent, and strikingly effective.
Despite the few shortcomings, this is a wonderful, action-paced and emotionally captivating steampunk story. And the happy ending sure didn’t hurt.
Reviewed By: Susan