2013; 218 pages. Book 1 (out of three) of the Aboard The Great Iron Horse series. New Author? : Yes. Genre : Steampunk Fantasy. Overall Rating : 7½*/10.
In a post-apocalyptic, steampunk world, Socrates and his band of adventurers ride the steam-powered locomotive, The Iron Horse, through the icy wastelands in search of other remnants of civilization. Their train is ½-mile in length, so they can take on board lots of survivors.
Of course, what we’re really talking about is human survivors. There are wild beasts afoot. They are a good source of meat, but can be quite the challenge when your weaponry has been reduced to muskets and swords.
Plus, not all of the humans they encounter may want to be “rescued”. Some may even be downright unfriendly.
What’s To Like...
The cause of the civilization-erasing event is not given; but it’s most likely either a new Ice Age or a nuclear winter. There’s a bare-bones prologue that gives you a small amount of a backstory, but it felt like you’re supposed to already know the main characters, and apparently they are carryovers from Jamie Sedgwick's previous series, The Tinkerer's Daughter. But if you haven't read that trilogy, it's okay; the world-building here is great, and I quickly became acclimated to it.
There’s not a lot of characters to keep track of, which makes it easy to focus on the storyline. The action is fast-paced and plentiful, and everything builds to an exciting, albeit, not particularly twisty, ending. There’s a nice variety of characters, although the steampunk ape Socrates is by far the most fascinating.
Critters and gadgets abound. Besides the train itself, we have muskets and broadswords, and a mysterious substance called “Starfall” which provides the power for the steam train. If Socrates and company can’t find enough Starfall, there are literally dead in their (railroad) tracks. There’s also a way-kewl “bone-shaker” (a steam-powered bicycle), and I was pleasantly surprised to see Chemistry – in the form of a distillation apparatus – get some ink. We won’t tell you anything of the critters; it’ll be more fun if you meet them firsthand.
Besides all the hack-&-slash, Jamie Sedgwick explores the more serious theme of blind faith. In this age of religious shysters and political hucksters, it’s a timely topic. The Clockwork God is a standalone novel that ends at a logical place, and of course leaves you wanting to read the further adventures of the crew of the Iron Horse in the next book.
The burly blacksmith dismissed his bald-headed companion with a snort. “You’re projecting,” he muttered. He took a big bite of roast and the greasy juices streamed down his beard. He appeared not to notice.
“Aye, like you know what that means,” Patch said, rolling his eyes. “Don’ be slingin’ those silvery words ‘round here.”
“It means ya see in him what ain’t there; what yer seein’ is yourself.”
“Pfft,” was Patch’s educated response. (loc. 751)
“My people are simple, but I guide them gently, like a shepherd.”
“No doubt you do. However, it has been my experience that the ignorant always hunger for knowledge, just as your people’s bellies hunger for food.”
“Ah, but is that not the way of things?” The Keeper took a sip of his wine and smiled. “Alas, we have no control over the world, or we would solve all of these problems with a snap of our fingers.”
“Would you?” Socrates said. (loc. 1380)
The Clockwork God is free at Amazon right now. The other two books in the series, Killing The Machine and The Dragon’s Breath, sell for $0.99 and $2.99 respectively. Jamie Sedgwick has a slew of other books and series, all of which are in the $0.00-$2.99 price range. His general pattern seems to be to offer the first book in each series for free, the second one for $0.99, and the rest for $2.99. I think this is a great marketing strategy, and just bought Killing The Machine.
“We are all machines of a sort. … We are made of moving parts. But if we have consciousness, then we are more than the sum of our parts.” (loc. 1317)
The quibbles are minor. Although there was plenty of action, the main storyline – meeting and interacting with a strange town and its strange beliefs and townspeople – is not very “epic”. This is not necessarily bad; in a way, it reminded me of a typical episode in the original Star Trek series. Highly entertaining, but not particularly cosmos-shaking.
Then there was the attempted rape scene, which felt awkwardly forced, and kinda made me wonder who the target audience was. Steampunk is generally YA-oriented, and the sexual assault didn’t seem to be in keeping with the tone of the book. But I’m not an expert on Steampunk, and know next to nothing about the overall tone of Jamie Sedgwick’s other books.
Finally, at 218 pages, the book was over entirely too soon. But maybe this just means it was a page-turner for me. Bottom line – The Clockwork God kept my interest, and made me want to read other books by this author, including the sequel.
7½ Stars. This is a promising start to a new series by what is for me a new author. We shall see if the subsequent books are as good, or even better than this.