[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.

Emilie and the Sky World, by Martha Wells

Title: Emilie and the Sky World (Emilie and the … #2)
Author: Martha Wells
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Publication date: 6th March 2014 (woo, birthday~)
Rating: 

EmilietheSkyWorld-144dpiI absolutely loved Emilie and the Hollow World. I called it “Neo-Vernian” and said I couldn’t wait for Emilie’s next adventure. I was eagerly awaiting Emilie and the Sky World, hoping for the same level of excitement and adventure. I wanted something just as special and unique and adventurous as the first of Emilie’s escapades. I… didn’t get this. Something… or many somethings perhaps, just did not work for me. Between having trouble imagining the various landscapes and dirigibles, I couldn’t find the same Emilie I fell for in the first book. She had been replaced by someone a little mean and bitter and although the same spirit and eventual self-awareness I knew tended to win out in the end, I found her a less than amiable companion to adventure with into this new and should-have-been wondrous sky world.

Only very recently back from the Hollow World and still learning all the tricks of the trade of adventuring and exploration, Emilie is now Miss Marlende’s assistant and has secured a future away from the judgemental and overbearing Uncle Yeric. But when he shows up, demanding she leave with him, and with Emilie’s younger brother Efrain in tow, all Emilie can do is up and leave, heading towards an aether current in the sky and a mysterious airship that has been spotted—and is approaching steadily.

There’s only one thing to be done: go and meet this strange aircraft and hope against hope that the travellers are friendly.

Accompanied by Professor Abindon and a selection of assistants, including Daniel (with whom I was hoping for a budding romance—but no such luck!!), Emilie and the Marlendes head off into skies unknown, up and up until they find themselves in the strangest place they’ve been given to see yet. With a new world seemingly hovering above their own, and stories of an airship that went missing in the sky’s aether currents, an aircraft assumed destroyed and its crew dead, some of the plot becomes very clear from the offset and spoils some of the wonder. We have a new world, yes; we have a potential threat, yes; we have a new crisis, yes—but so many things were obvious and predictable. That was half the problem.

And partly it was the pacing, which was odd. Sometimes the book ran and then would slow to a crawl without warning. There seemed to be no tangible tension, despite the situation, which naturally should have been tense and sharp. It wasn’t. Nothing was easy to imagine and visualise, from the new bits-and-pieces world made of clumps of everywhere else to the alien creature, Hyacinth. No matter how I tried, I could only picture the plant-flower creature as some kind of flowery mutated Bellsprout or other plant-type Pokemon. Which, honestly, felt silly. I couldn’t take the new creature seriously. I applaud Wells for her imagination… but I’m wondering if what she herself imagined actually translated to the page. Bellsprout-monster aside, I couldn’t visualise the technology, the ship, the anything. It felt confused and jumbled and completely out of touch with the rich imagination glimpsed in Emilie and the Hollow World.

I enjoyed the dry and sarcastic tension of the professor, but found the initial mystery surrounding her relationship to the Marlendes unnecessary: I found it obvious very early on just who she was. The fact that just why there is so much tension between the professor and Miss Marlende is never explained and it feels as though it was simply forgotten—as though Wells had every intention of adding more to flesh out the bones of their relationship, but forgot. It felt unfinished—and then far too easily resolved. I enjoyed her character, but at times she became more a tool than anything else, to direct the plot and be the ‘smart one’ in lieu of Dr Marlende.

As for the sibling tension between Emilie and Efrain…I would have loved it had the book surrounding it been better and it slipped more naturally into the flow of things. It didn’t. It felt tacked on to interest readers in an element of Emilie’s personal life. However, she simply proves herself as an unlikeable and petty character at times, dismissive of her brother’s wonder at her changes as more negativity in replacement of Uncle Yeric’s snide and cruel opinion. Furthermore, any resolution achieved by Emilie and her family is brief, staged and honestly the book could have done without it. The conversations were stilted despite the dialogue itself being acute and realistic. Unfortunately, the book was just… boring. It took a whole forty percent to reach the airship in the sky and for the real story to kick in. What happened in the space before? I’m not sure. A whole lot of nothing.

This book was frustrating. Slow and boring and absolutely nothing like the first book. There was no spirit. Nothing. I wish that the elements I liked had been handled better, that Emilie and her brother had been a proper storyline, that there had been some evidence that Emilie has actual emotion and an emotional life instead of the peppy I-want-to-prove-myself-useful attitude she has got going on. I wanted her to love someone, or I wanted her to really hate and argue with her brother. It was all so stiff-upper-lip and Emilie just seemed snotty and uppity in response to her brother’s obvious attempts to build bridges.

It’s not as though Emilie is an unlikeable character—she’s not—but somehow, whatever connection I’d made with her in the first book, was cut off. All I got was the busy dial tone; no Emilie.

The book’s greatest weakness is that it seems that nothing happens, everything crawls along with no tension whatsoever. Absolutely no tension. The creatures are difficult to imagine and the overarching plot was…honestly so overdone in principal I was surprised Wells even touched it. I am so over mind-control, body-snatching. So over it. In fact: it’s on my list of Things That Annoy Me In Books. So that went well…2-star copy

I thought I would love this book and I went into it with all the enthusiasm left over from Emilie and the Hollow World and its five-star review…and smacked straight into a wall. I struggled through and quite honestly wanted to get it over with as soon as possible so I could move onto something else.

Dull, slow and difficult in its haphazard pacing. I…evidently did not enjoy this book. Nope. Not at all. Sorry, book; but we can’t be friends.

A Conspiracy of Alchemists, by Liesel Schwarz

  • TITLE: A Conspiracy of Alchemists (Chronicles of Light and Shadow #1)
  • AUTHOR: Liesel Schwarz
  • PUBLISHER: Del Rey
  • PUBLICATION DATE: 7th Februrary (UK)
  • RATING: ★★★★★

Conspiracy_of_Alchemists.JPG.size-230A Conspiracy of Alchemists is my first steampunk novel. I’m pleased to say it was a good choice to begin with. Requested on a whim via NetGalley, I clicked through the eARC and within minutes I was hooked. There’s something different about this story and whatever it is, it makes it a definite winner.

In a world where the Light and the Shadow realms weave and melt into the real world, where absinthe fairies and Nightwalkers mix with Alchemists, and human Warlocks live for centuries, the balance is tipping with the growing use and power of spark and science. There is great power locked away in the Shadow realm but as the Light grows stronger and logic and reason banish its hold, draining its power, the power of all who rely on the darker realm ebbs away to nothingness.

To Elle, this is no concern. She is a perfectly normal young woman merely going about her business, which just happens to be flying her own small freight service craft and studying physics. She lives for flying and sure, she might not be cut out for the regular married life of her peers—in fact, although she was educated in etiquette and even débuted, her heart was scarcely in it—but she is still an exceedingly normal woman with no need to concern herself with the mysterious box that has landed in her hands, the absinthe fairy in the café she’s meeting at, or the presence of Nightwalkers and Warlocks. Nothing of this is her concern.

Until it does concern her—and those closest to her. Then, of course, she needs to reassess and put aside all the logical thoughts and rationality that comes from the Light and embrace the Shadow that runs deep in her family. And then there’s Marsh, who never quite seems to tell her the truth, yet doesn’t really lie to her either. He is a conundrum—a handsome one, at that—and Elle simply isn’t sure what to do. Under normal circumstances, she would follow her instincts… but since all this started, they’re not quite what they used to be. Something is changing in her and she’s not sure what it is… It might have something to do with her lineage and the strange bracelet that won’t come off… and yet surely not? She’s a sensible, normal girl and that’s that.

The darker beings of the Shadow realm don’t seem to agree, however. Elle is in serious trouble and those after her do not necessarily need her consent to use her for their ends. With or without her consent, things are set to change.

Of course, being the daughter of a genius scientist does have its perks and Elle is definitely not without her wiles, feminine or otherwise. She is a bright young lady and she will not go quietly—whatever it is these people have planned. If she has a destiny, then she will jolly well choose which parts of it she will accept and those that will have to merely jump off the next dirigible.

A Conspiracy of Alchemists is an adventure of a story that never stops. It is full of intrigue and excitement that constantly twists and turns, all whilst offering charm, wit and humour. It is an urban fantasy for the 1900s complete with all the right elements of romance that make for one excellently good story.

As far as the genre goes, I can’t judge, since it’s my first steampunk novel or even my first with any steampunk sensibilities. Even so, I don’t need to be an avid reader of steampunk to know that this is a great story that keeps fun at its heart yet still manages to be completely unputdownable. It is as pacy as the setting calls for—imagine that the 1900s setting makes for a wholly different pace than a modern fantasy—and is completely compelling and intriguing.A-Conspiracy-of-Alchemists

Elle is just brilliant. It’s always good to have a strong female who is balanced out by a great guy; it makes for more enjoyable reading, especially for me. She doesn’t try too hard to be a tough girl—it is naturally a part of who she is and it is balanced out with realistic vulnerability that makes her so likeable. She is just fantastic and born for the setting and the story she occupies. The same can be said for Marsh, who is a perfectly roguish gentleman with a soft squishy side beneath all that charm, wit and hidden steel.

Overall, I was surprised by this story. It was good. I will wholeheartedly admit that whilst I prefer the US  (I think?) cover, the hot pink font did almost put me off. Preconceptions about gender stereotypes are sometimes hard to get rid of, and a cover splashed with hot pink (this looks more red, but honestly, on NetGalley it’s shockingly pink!) does sort of give a wrong idea in relation to precisely just what sort of book A Conspiracy of Alchemists is. On the other hand, the UK cover also gives a completely wrong impression of the book, taking away Elle’s other side—her classy, sassiness—replacing it with the expected colours and images associated with steampunk.

But, a cover’s a cover and either way, this is a five-star book that I like to think of as period urban fantasy. It is a brilliant, imaginative story that paves the way for an excellent series that evidently has a lot more still to offer.

Awesome, fun and just plain cool, you need to give this book a chance.