[Review] Timekeeper, by Tara Sim [Timekeeper #1]

Title: Timekeeper (Timekeeper #1)
Author: Tara Sim
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Publication date: 8th November 2016
Rating: ★★★★★

25760792Timekeeper, by Tara Sim, is a clockworky, period fantasy-mystery-romance-everything that mixes an investigative ‘whodunit’ element with that of myth, magic and mayhem, with the added exploration of everything from parental relationships to what, exactly, being human might mean.

Set in an alternate Victorian England (yay) where time is quite literally a force of power and must be harnessed through clock towers in order to function correctly and keep life flowing and moving as it must, Sim’s debut novel is a brilliant example of making myth and mystery merge with the burgeoning industry associated with steam/clockpunk to create a story that is completely addictive and rich.

Time was once controlled by Chronos, but after his death, time needed new, mortal guardians to ensure that all flowed and ebbed according to its natural order: The Mechanics. They can sense time, touch it and feel its strands and fibres as if it were fabric. They are its guardians, attending to the maintenance of the clocks across the world.

Danny Hart is one such mechanic—the best in his class and a natural prodigy; the youngest mechanic in the union—like his father before him. But Danny is particularly gifted, able to not only repair the towers with ease and a delicate, careful hand, but to feel and touch the very fabric of time itself in a way far deeper than his peers. Danny understands time.

Which is why, when an accident traps his father in a Stopped town, now for three years and counting, Danny is certain that if he could just be a part of the controversial construction of the new tower in Malden, that he’ll be able to save his father.

But with fears that Danny might not be up to the task, following on accident that could have cost him his life, Danny’s requests to work on the tower are gently refused by the Lead Mechanic. Before the accident, before he drew the sympathetic stares of his colleagues, there would have been no question as to whether he was fit for the job or not. In order to get the assignment to Maldon, Danny needs to repair his reputation and prove that he’s fine after the accident.

So what if he has nightmares, still, and the presence of so much of the clockwork that exploded and scarred him makes him break out in sweats? He can handle it—he has to. With this in mind, Danny sets himself to any assignment he’s given with determination, desperate to help his father.

Things begin to change, however, when Danny takes a job in Enfield.

Clock spirits don’t exist—not really. Every mechanic knows the stories, but they’re a myth, a fiction. Only, Danny might be forced to change that assertion when he meets Colton, the clock spirit of the Enfield tower. Filled with deep loneliness, Enfield’s clock spirit begins finding any way he can to draw the mechanics—to draw Danny—to the town. So much for Danny’s focus on work and saving his father… Before long, the two are drawn together and Danny’s visits to the tower have less to do with the clock and more the boy who powers it.

But when a similar incident to the one that almost killed Danny occurs and there’s no visible culprit or motive, things begin to take a sinister turn. With clock towers being attacked, maybe it’s only a matter of time before another town is Stopped. And perhaps Danny won’t be so lucky a second time.

It soon becomes clear that Danny must solve the mystery before something unthinkable happens and before long, there’s more at stake than just Danny’s father. With the help of Colton, a rival mechanic, and his best friend, Danny delves headlong into untangling the distorted threads to find the truth about what really happened to him—and to his father.

Timekeeper is an expertly-written debut that is both thrilling and enchanting. Sim has a talent for crafting real, feeling characters and capturing the subtle and nuanced realities of every emotion from loneliness to grief, as well as weaving realistic and deep relationships between the characters. This is always something I hone in on immediately: parental relationships. Sim writes a seamless strained relationship between Danny and his mother, as well as his absent father. Parents suck sometimes—whatever the reason—and Danny’s mother is no different.

Obviously, Timekeeper features a m/m romance. Sound all the bells and alarms for a realistically-written gay romance, because by gods, they’re rare enough and rarer still written well, without essentially resembling the shounen-ai/yaoi fanfics written by teenage girls after binging Junjou Romantica for three weeks. This isn’t a gay romance written for girls (as so many are: fight me, go on, do it), it’s just a boy-meets-boy kind of story that gets it right, not agonising over any ridiculous notions such as how do I write a gay romance?! (spoiler: the same way you write any goddamn romance).

Additionally, this isn’t a story about Danny being gay—it’s a story where Danny just so happens to be into boy-shaped people. This fact alone would likely made me give the book five million stars and recommend it, even if I hadn’t personally liked it. When we have queer SFF on the regular that just so happens to feature queer characters without being a story that centres entirely on their queerness, then I’ll shut up about it. Until then, I’ll say: I do not want queer fiction; I want fiction that happens to be queer.

And that’s precisely what Timekeeper is.

Timekeeper is also a brilliant story that makes Sim look like she’s been published for years, not, in fact, her debut novel. The world is richly-plotted and expertly conveyed, mixing her unique magic and myth effortlessly with the more modern setting of a Victorian England only slightly different from our own. Her prose is deep and magical, adding a touch of wonder to the manner of setting that would usually present as either high-society propriety or the nitty-gritty of the streets. Timekeeper is enthralling and delightful and in one book, Sim managed to both write a story that finds a natural end, at the same time as setting the stage for subsequent books to follow.

Needless to say I am highly anticipating more from Sim—both in the Timekeeper world and in whichever additional worlds Sim decides to explore. This book was bloody brilliant. Buy it.


The Fallen Prince, by Amalie Howard [The Riven Chronicles #2]

  • Title: The Fallen Prince (The Riven Chronicles #2)
  • Author: Amalie Howard
  • Publisher: Sky Pony Press
  • Publication date: April 5th 2016
  • Rating: ★★★★

25898456The Fallen Prince
is the long-awaited sequel to Amalie Howard’s The Almost Girl. I was thrilled to receive an ARC, because I absolutely adored the first book and couldn’t wait to dive back in with Riven and Caden. Most of my reading tends to err towards pure fantasy or urban/historical-urban fantasy, so when I get something that is science-fiction, I get a little excited. With the promise of even more sci-fi with Riven and Caden’s return to their own world, I was super hyped for this book.

After the betrayal of Caden’s clone, Cale, and the death of Riven’s sister, Shae, things have been chaotic for both of them. Add to that the fact that Riven won’t stop hunting her father and creator, Danton. She’s been chasing him through the Otherworld, desperate for revenge and/or justice; bent on bringing him back to Neospes to answer for what he’s done.

She’s made her peace with the revelation of what she is, the almost-girl that her father engineered. Caden’s support and acceptance helped. Still, there are times where Riven feels like little more than General Riven: soldier, monster, killer. She will always be a warrior, always lead and always strive to protect those she loves.

Only now that’s proving to be more difficult, as a new and unimaginable foe emerges from the shadows. But that’s not all and before long Riven will find herself torn between what she wants for herself and what is best for Neospes. Perhaps reverting to her old self, the cool and aloof general, is the best thing for everyone. Of course, it’s difficult to distance yourself from your heart, when the boy you love isn’t buying the act. Caden is, as always, there to remind Riven that she isn’t the heartless soldier she wishes she could be, thinks she still could be.

A lot changed in the Otherworld and it changed Riven forever. They’ve come a long way from her task to take Cade out.

Unfortunately, things are set to get harder from here. With the fate of Neospes hanging in the balance, threatened by the aggressions of an enemy that shouldn’t exist, the Lord King of Neospes might be called upon in a capacity neither he nor Riven has ever considered. Still, Cade will do what he must for his city and his people, even if that mean making tough decisions.

As Riven and Caden enter into tangled web of danger and new political relations, both begin to realise that there seems to be no right answer. With the appearance of new allies and the revelation of a secret so large it could change everything, the fight to get Caden back on the throne is soon going to seem like it was a walk in the park.

Everyone has an agenda and diplomacy and people-skills have never been at the top of Riven’s resume. But when things take a turn for the strange and she begins to doubt her own mind, her own monstrousness, it seems that even Riven might falter when things get hard.

Except that if she does, it could spell out the doom for everyone in Neospes—and that’s not something she’s willing to let happen. One way or another, she will find a way to defeat their new enemy, even if it costs her absolutely everything. Even if it costs Riven her life.

The Fallen Prince is precisely what I was expecting from the sequel to The Almost Girl: an exciting and gripping adventure in a truly post-apocalyptic setting that stands apart from other dystopian landscapes by virtue of its original and thoughtful details. From peculiar flora and fauna to unusual technology leftover from the brutal war, and the immersive attention to detail with scorching temperatures and the necessary biotechnology to survive them, The Fallen Prince feels like an authentic and vibrant ride through a gritty scorched-earth style adventure.

Add in the dynamic between Riven and Caden, which doesn’t suffer from any second-book syndrome of should we/shouldn’t we in spite of their new and awkward situation, and we have a winning formula for a very successful sequel that was well worth the wait.

The Fallen Prince feels like the natural continuation of the story, with a seamless transition from what became an urban sci-fi adventure in The Almost Girl to the pure dystopian sci fi of the second book in the sequence.

Howard’s prose feels slick and sharp and completely on point in expressing the next part of Riven and Caden’s story. This was always going to be a different book from The Almost Girl, owning to the drastic change of setting and a busier cast—and the result is an exciting and vivid exploration of the world outside of Neospes.

There’s a lot tucked between the lines in this book; from commentaries on parental relationships to what power means and how to use it. In the end, Riven remains a kickass force of nature who is here to get the job done, whatever that means. Meanwhile, nothing of Caden’s rise to Lord King has changed who is and we’re still presented with the nerdy, long-haired boy we met in the Otherworld. Though Caden can hold his own when needed, it is definitely Riven who fulfils the role of protector. She will protect her Lord King, whether he wants her to or not.

Howard writes the science so casually that it feels like tasting little nuggets of hard sci-fi without the twenty page long descriptions of spaceship engines and how a forcefield works. This book feels bigger and better and generally more than The Almost Girl. It feels like the next step in a dark, clever and thrilling scorched-earth, world-hopping adventure. Which is precisely what it is.

The Fallen Prince was definitely worth the wait.