Author: Steven Harper
Release Date: Nov. 1, 2011
The Clockwork Empire, Book 1
Genre: Steampunk, Fantasy
Format(s): Paperback (400 pgs), e-book
Book Source: Publisher
About the book:
In a Britannia of clockwork automatons and airships, Alice Michaels’s prospects are looking grim.
The Honorable Alice B. Michaels is in a life or death struggle for survival—socially speaking, that is. At twenty-one, her age, her unladylike interest in automatons, and the unfortunate deaths of most of her family from the plague have sealed her fate as a less than desirable marriage prospect.
But a series of strange occurrences are about to lead Alice in a direction quite beyond the pale. High above the earth on the American airship USS Juniper, Gavin Ennock lives for the wind and the sky and his fiddle. After privateers attack the Juniper, he is stranded on the dank, dirty, and merciless streets of London. When Alice’s estranged aunt leaves her a peculiar inheritance, she encounters Gavin under most unusual—even shocking—circumstances.
Then Alice’s inheritance attracts the attention of the Third Ward, a clandestine organization that seizes the inventions of mad geniuses the plague leaves behind—all for the good of the Empire. But even the Third Ward has secrets. And when Alice and Gavin discover them, a choice must be made between the world and the Empire, no matter the risk to all they hold dear.
What B is talking about:
Alice Michaels, the twenty-two year old daughter of an ailing Baron of the British Empire, is titled, beautiful, and intelligent. Unfortunately for her, she is also uniquely gifted when it comes to the automatons that exist alongside humans in the world left ravaged by a clockwork plague, exhibiting a truer affinity for the machines she builds than other members of the society by whom she so desperately wants to be accepted.
Having watched his captain and his best friend be murdered by pirates, and finding himself abandoned by his employer on the filthy streets of London, Gavin Ennock wants nothing more than to somehow earn his way back home to Boston. He, too, is trapped by the rules of a society that doesn’t want him, and he soon finds himself in the employ of the Third Ward, a secret organization determined to “contain” the most dangerous members of the plague’s survivors: the clockworkers.
Since I am continually fascinated by all things Steampunk, even the cover of The Doomsday Vault, with its promise of corsets and clockworks, drew me in right away. Harper strikes a nice balance between the apparatuses themselves and the science behind them, the latter being exhibited mostly through Alice’s determination to find out how everything works. The technology is present throughout the story, making it as much a character as any of the people Harper writes about.
Harper begins The Doomsday Vault with a jolt, throwing Alice directly into a zombie attack while on her way to a ball. Gavin’s beginning in the novel is similarly a shock, with pirates taking over his beloved dirigible, the Juniper. Adding to the darker nature of the story, there are some truly unlikeable characters throughout the novel as well.
Although the two main characters are indisputably heroes, Gavin even more so than Alice, there are instances where they must both sacrifice their better moral judgment for the “greater good.” This is true of many of the secondary characters even more often. While sometimes a successful device for lending a feeling of gravity to a work, in this case, it left me feeling uncomfortable and distant on more than one occasion.
The Doomsday Vault was a good way to start off a new series in a highly specialized genre. Its combination of science and fantasy and good versus evil work well, especially when that evil isn’t always what it appears to be. Harper also seems to be using a fictional past to encourage patience and tolerance in ourselves, as well as giving us a warning about letting our own fears be used against us. Though it sometimes relies too heavily on the main characters to show how the pieces of the mystery within the story are connected, The Doomsday Vault is still a clever and worthwhile take on the Steampunk universe.
Liked it a lot – recommend (B+)