"The best place to start an adventure is with a quiet, perfect life...and someone who realizes that it can't possibly be enough."
Traditionally, a book is used as the source of inspiration for other works of art --- for albums or songs, for paintings or drawings, and for movies or television programs. CLOCKWORK ANGELS actually finds the reverse to be true. Conceived of by Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart, the story was told in songs to be used for the latest rock album by the band. Longtime friends with science fiction writer Kevin J. Anderson, the two had often discussed collaborating on a novel project. The songs and story told within CLOCKWORK ANGELS was fertile ground, and Anderson set out, with input from Peart, to craft what turns out to be a rather touching and insightful novel.
"CLOCKWORK ANGELS is a thoughtful and intriguing story, and Anderson is more than capable of delivering on every level necessary. It is a science fiction story without the bizarre obscurity one can find because the story is so grounded in a world in many ways similar to our own."
CLOCKWORK ANGELS is set in a dystopian world fueled by the power of steam. “Every thing has its place and every place has its thing” is the mantra. All of the world is presided over by the Watchmaker, who sets the world into comfortable patterns and lays out the destinies of his people. This is rarely a point of contention, though the Anarchist makes his way through the world, determined to bring down the Watchmaker, to break his line of predestination of instill freewill amongst the citizenry. In the midst of the two polarizing ideals is Owen Hardy.
The son of the manager of an apple orchard, Owen lives an idyllic, if simple life. He's a small town boy with big world dreams, destined by design to live out his life in his quiet town amongst the orchards and to marry his local sweetheart. His late mother used to read to him from histories of the world, and he has longed to see the famed Clockwork Angels in Crown City, the home of the Watchmaker. Owen will never do these things, however. The Watchmaker has determined his place. Yet events take a turn when Owen rashly decides to hop a steamtrain, breaking the path he was chosen to walk, and sets out to see the Clockwork Angels.
Things do not always go as planned for the young man. He finds new love amongst a traveling circus, feels the ache of heartbreak, the brutality of a world outside the control of the Watchmaker, and even encounters the Anarchist himself. Owen, in many regards, becomes the son of two warring fathers, and in the course of trying to simply stay alive, he must fight to find the life and identity best suited to his heart.
CLOCKWORK ANGELS is a thoughtful and intriguing story, and Anderson is more than capable of delivering on every level necessary. It is a science fiction story without the bizarre obscurity one can find because the story is so grounded in a world in many ways similar to our own. Even for its differences. It is a survival story, taking the reader through the air, through oceans and pirate attacks, and through deserts in search of lost cities. It is a love story, about a boy who gives his heart and feels the sting of rejection, and tries to find a way to grow from the experience. It is a story of control versus freedom and balance. It is a story of big dreams and harsh realities, and the sweet spot somewhere in between those two worlds.
Owen is the key --- the one thing that ties everyone into the story. His passion for the Angels, his misery, his far-off dreams, his ache at the memory of his mother are all things readers share with this boy. Thus, when the grander elements of "steampunk" raise their heads, they do not feel so out of place because Anderson has crafted a character so compelling and decidedly human that we accept him and his adventure wholly.
If you are no fan of genre works, I would still very highly recommend CLOCKWORK ANGELS. It stands on its own merits as a grand adventure tale woven with threads of various themes enough to keep it fresh, exciting and engaging. Ultimately, CLOCKWORK ANGELS is one of the most human of stories -- of the young coming of age and struggling to find their place, of desperately seeking kinship in a world larger than they imagined, and of finding faith in themselves enough to make a life worth living.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on October 5, 2012