I read this back in December 2021 but apparently I never wrote a review for it. I also read the second in this series, Wonder Engine, and never wrote a review for that, either. Soooo, I get to re-read some of my favorites via audiobook while I game so I can write a couple reviews. 😀 Perfect.
I think this was the first book I read by T. Kingfisher and I was in love with the writing style. It incorporates scent and other senses that really helped me get immersed in the world. I now know it’s sort of a signature of her style and I love her for it as someone who struggles with visualization. I really love this narrator, too. She does a great job if you’re into audiobooks.
Just by looking at the cover you know this is going to be a steampunk book, and the clockwork boys are about as oddly steampunkish as it gets. In this world there’s a lost civilization just called the Ancients, and they’ve left a lot of odd tech behind that current society has no idea what to do with. Often times what’s been left behind is dangerous, like the clockwork boys. They are eight to ten feet tall, they’re ivory colored, covered in gears, and don’t appear to be ‘alive’ in the traditional sense. They don’t seem to have a need to eat, breath, they don’t really bleed and even the manner in which they are put together seems impossible. It kind of breaks your brain to look at them.
Slate is our MC and she’s pissed off the wrong people. She was a thief, but not in the way that’s usually presented. She didn’t go after people’s gold, jewelry, clothes… she went after their paperwork. She was known for forging documents, altering them, stealing knowledge like banking info etc. She’s now been given a literal suicide mission — to take down the Clockwork Boys. The Queen has assigned her to go to Anukit City (which no one has been able to reach for months, everyone dies along the way for one reason or another) and take down the Clockwork Boys (also a literal impossible task). She’s been given the authority to raid the dungeons and release whoever she thinks can help her on her mission. So, she builds this ragtag group of assholes who all hate each other to go on this suicide mission. Great plan. What keeps them bound to this suicide mission and to each other is a magic tattoo that will eat them if they don’t stay on task.
Slate is a minor wonder worker, and it’s a very minor thing at that. All she can do is sense when magic is near. However small this gift may be, it pays off in dividends by being able to sense and avoid the clockwork boys as they march threw the lands, giving her a small hope of being able to maneuver her way to Anukit City. She takes her death sentence rather well, and with a lot of snark.
One member of this group, Calliban, is an ex knight who was once possessed by a demon and killed like eight people while under their influence. Now, he hates the fact that he did that. He had no control what so ever. He had spent his entire life dedicated to the Dreaming God, who expels demons from people/livestock/whatever else to help save the innocent. People don’t know this, but demons love to take over livestock, it’s easier than a person. Cows speaking in tongues are a thing in this world. It was during an exorcism where he got too cocky and let his guard down that a demon jumped from one body to his and took over. Although the demon in his body was “killed” he wasn’t totally exorcised, he still has a shell or body of a demon inside him and it stirs from time to time, making him spout gibberish. It happens in his sleep almost ever night. He’s a broody fellow.
One is an assassin named Brenner, who also happens to be her ex lover. He’s very cold, calculating, and good at his job. She trusts him in as much that she thinks it would take a lot of money for him to take a contract on her life. That’s about as much of a ‘friend’ as she has. He does want to rekindle their relationship and it was unclear how and when it ended, just that they once were fucking and now they’re not. It doesn’t create much drama between those two. The two of them are perfectly capable of being professional and working around each other. No, the drama comes in because the broody knight also is interested and that creates tension between those two.
To round out the group is the priest, Learned Edmond, who was stupid enough to volunteer for the mission thinking he was going to survive and become a hero. He’s 19. That’s why. He’s also deeply misogynistic and unlikable at the start. He’s probably the person most ‘changed’ by the end of the series. He’s been raised by all men who tell him all sorts of strange things about women and has been sworn to celibacy, etc. He does not take kindly to being led by a woman, lol.
This is not a long book, the plot kicks off basically on page one. The reader knows exactly who the players are, what the goal is, and what the consequences are if they don’t succeed. There’s not much you have to think about or figure out, making it a fast paced story/ light easy reading. The dialogue was definitely battery and bordering on the point of realness, but kind of like a Marvel movie I just ran with it. This isn’t a book that takes itself too, too seriously.
This did not wrap up neatly in one book like all the other T. Kingfisher books I’ve read so far, this ends with a clear part 2 for all these characters yet to come. There wasn’t as much on the romance as the other ones, either. The romance conundrum here was not settled in the first, there were no sex scenes, a little UST but not a ton by comparison to her other works. Overall, I’d recommend this to people who want to start in on a fun steampunk world with a lot of growth to come, this is just one series set in a world with lots of different subseries/standalone books.
- Plot: 11/15
- Characters: 12/15
- World Building: 12/15
- Writing: 13/15
- Pacing: 13/15
- Originality: 12/15
- Enjoyment: 8/10
Final Score: 81/100 or 4/5 stars on Goodreads