RogerBW's Blog

Clockwork Lies: Iron Wind, Dru Pagliassotti 13 March 2020

2014 steampunk fantasy romance, second in the Clockwork Heart trilogy. Taya, an "icarus" flying courier, is now the wife of the Ondinan ambassador to Mareaux. But between the assassination attempts and the more conventional betrayals, her life is rarely boring. vt Iron Wind.

The first volume was quite hazy about why the icarus fliers were never used for war. But this is written by someone a few years older and more cynical, with a main character ditto who's moving in high political circles, and it turns out that many of the first book's "absolute prohibitions" on armed fliers are more, well, guidelines, albeit guidelines enforced by murderous secret police. It all works rather better than the untenable belief that everyone simply respected the rules.

"The daughter of one of my old friends plays the cello. She's dreadful, but nobody in Mareaux has the good sense to tell her so. If she'd taken the Great Examination, she would have been culled out of music school right from the start, and dozens of family friends would have been saved these painful musical interludes."

The core of the book, though, is Pagliassotti's portrayal of the relationship between Taya and Cristof; they're a married couple very much in love, rather than the more conventional narrative choice of a couple either coming together or coming apart, and that romance is a solid undercurrent through all the other events, whether it's diplomatic manoeuvres, survival of assassination attempts, or a desperate fight to bring down invading airships. At the same time they aren't superheroes; they get injured, and worry about each other, while still saving the world. And through quite a bit of the book they get to work together, something I particularly appreciate.

There's some odd use of language: a "counterweight" is a literal counter-weight, something with negative weight (but does it have negative mass?), while an "ornithopter" is a bird-like aircraft but not necessarily one that flaps. If these are just atmospheric words to you, you won't trip over them and wonder what on earth is going on.

Bringing in airships makes things more overtly steampunk than before, in a way that works quite well: in various ways they're either better or worse than the magic anti-gravity flying suits, and this is developed consistently and well. But in the end, this is about the characters, and while I'd have liked to meet some more old friends it's still an effective story of people rather than of paper dolls.

This isn't quite the wonder that the first book was, but in a slightly different direction it's really rather fine.

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Previous in series: Clockwork Heart | Series: Clockwork Heart | Next in series: Clockwork Secrets: Heavy Fire

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