by Dru Pagliassotti
Juno Books (April 2008)
ISBN-10: 0809572567, ISBN-13: 978-0809572564
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars
The metal beneath her feet jolted and shuddered. Taya grabbed the strut next to her with one heavily gloved hand. Usually she loved flying, but today’s winds were the worst she’d–
The girder jolted again, and the high-pitched shriek of straining metal cut across the whistling wind and humming cables. Chilled, Taya jerked her head up, looking for the source of the noise.
There. One of the wireferry girders, suspended in midair several yards away from her, was starting to bend under the weight of an approaching car. Gears ground and began to spin as the heavy wire cables slipped, loosening as the girder started to buckle.
Taya leaped to her feet, banging her head against a low strut. She winced, looking around. Didn’t anyone else see the danger?
—Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti, p. 10-11.
Clockwork Heart is one of the most enjoyable fantasies I have read in a long time; I didn’t want the book to end. Clockwork Heart has everything you might want in a book–a strong girl hero, romance, intrigue, mystery, suspense, great humor, believable characters, strong writing, all in a fantasy setting.
Taya is an icarus–a messenger who flies through the city on metal wings. Like other icaruses, she can fly freely through all the sectors of the city and the caste separations, wearing what she chooses, without being restricted the way other castes are, especially the higher castes, exalteds. One day, she witnesses an accident as it occurs that would surely result in death, and she flies to the rescue of the exalted and her son, even at personal risk to herself. The exalted is grateful, and as Taya learns more, she begins to suspect that the accident was not really an accident. From there, she is drawn into political intrigue, romance, and danger, as she works to discover who was trying to kill the exalted and why.
Taya is a strong female character; a real hero. She’s a hero right from the beginning of the book, when she saves two people when others might not have risked themselves. From there, she gets swept up in political intrigue and danger, and continues to act with courage. Pagliassotti made Taya a hero I could believe in; Taya has courage, emotional strength, tenacity, and tries to do the right thing. Like many heroes and people we respect, she’s modest, and doesn’t want or need acclaim for her deeds. She also likes rugged, comfortable clothes, doesn’t use makeup, and sometimes wavers in self confidence or wonders if people remember or like her for herself. Pagliassotti crafted Taya incredibly well; she is a full, rich character, believable, and easy to relate to, care about, and root for. I liked her immensely.
Pagliassotti also took great care with her other characters. Taya’s love interest is just as full a character, and feels refreshingly real, with his grumpy, caustic manner, his social uncomfortablness and his deliberate turning away from his social class, the way he’s more comfortable with machines and thought than emotion, yet a hidden softness and even a slightly romantic side. Even most walk-on characters have a freshness to them, attributes that make them stand out or that seem to make sense. Even the antagonist of the book, while having some horrific depths, also had other sides and shades to his character, making him feel real. Near the end, when he was confessing to what he was doing, he became slightly less real to me, but I didn’t care because the other characters were so strong, and as a reader, I wanted to relate to Taya, the main character, and stay in her viewpoint–and I did.
Pagliassotti brings in a lovely humor to help lighten some of the more tense moments, especially two-thirds of the way through the book. Some of this humor actually had me laughing aloud. Another thing that really added to my enjoyment of the book was that although there were some evil or horrible characters and events, there was, overall, a lot of hope, found especially in the good people and characters in the book (such as Taya, her friends, love interest, and even the policeman she dealt with), in the way Taya is often treated with respect or fairness, even when she doesn’t expect it, and in the way that good ultimately wins out against evil.
Clockwork Heart is set in a different world setting, one where people’s jobs and class are clearly laid out and visible just by looking at a person. Taya’s city also relies on a huge clock mechanism inside a mountain, that acts like a computer. Because Clockwork Heart is set in a different world setting, there are new words and meanings to get used to. The first few slowed me down for a bit, but didn’t detract from my interest, and after that, they became easy to incorporate and understand. Pagliassotti includes many details to make this world come alive and seem real, though there were a few places, especially in the beginning, where descriptions or backstory were given in paragraphs or chunks; they slowed the story for me, and would have been more digestible if they’d been sprinkled more sparsely throughout the story. I also found the importance of the clock mechanism that runs their city confusing–since it seemed to be thought so important, but in the end didn’t seem to be. Still, the story never flagged; it always pulled me on, so tightly I couldn’t–and didn’t want to–let go.
Pagliassotti created clear class distinctions that are visible through facial tattoos and specific clothing and/or masks, as well as by race. The class divisions are more clear than in our own society, but they draw parallels that may bring some thought. Pagliassotti deftly hints at events and makes some facts slowly unfold, allowing the reader time to figure some things out on their own or guess at them before they are fully revealed, which adds to the pleasure of the book.
The book’s title comes into the story in the last of the book both obviously and then metaphorically, in a way that makes the title seem meaningful. I really enjoyed that, though I almost wished that some of it was mentioned earlier. Clockwork Heart has just the right mix of fantasy and romance, with sprinkles of mystery and intrigue. There is so much to enjoy, here.
For an entertaining, absorbing read, one you won’t want to end, pick this book up. Clockwork Heartis the best YA fantasy–the best book–I have read in a long time. Pagliassotti is now one of my new favorite authors, and I’ll look for any other book she comes out with. Highly recommended, and available now in stores!