Review: The Impossible Cube by Steven Harper

Posted May 9, 2012 by B. in 4 stars, Rating A, Steampunk Fiction Tags: , , ,

The Impossible Cube
Author: Steven Harper 
Release Date: May 1, 2012
Publisher: ROC
Clockwork Empire #2
ISBN: #978-0451464507
Genre: Steampunk, Fantasy
Format(s): Paperback (400 pgs), e-book
Book Source: Publisher
About the book:
In an age where fantastic inventions of steam and brass have elevated Britain and China into mighty empires, Alice Michaels faces a future of technological terrors…
Once, Gavin Ennock sailed the skies on airships and enchanted listeners with his fiddle music. Now, the clockwork plague consumes his intellect, enabling him to conceive and construct scientific wonders—while driving him quite mad. Distressed by her beloved’s unfortunate condition, Alice Michaels sought a cure rumored to be inside the Doomsday Vault—and brought the wrath of the British Empire down on them.
Declared enemies of the Crown, Alice and Gavin have little choice but to flee to China in search of a cure. Accompanying them is Dr. Clef, a mad genius driven to find the greatest and most destructive force the world has ever seen: The Impossible Cube. If Dr. Clef gets his hands on it, the entire universe will face extinction. 
And Gavin holds the key to its recreation…
What B is talking about:
Set in the mid-1800’s, this second installment of Harper’s Clockwork Empire stories explores the minds of the clockworkers, most specifically, Gavin’s, now that he’s been infected by the clockwork plague and become a clockworker himself. It is, in many ways, more Gavin’s story than Alice’s, although the perspective of the novel shifts between the characters frequently.
In The Impossible Cube, Harper gives us more of the science and history behind the plague and the resulting manipulation perpetrated by the two main powers in his fictional world, Britain and China. Both countries collect clockworkers who live out the rest of their shortened lives in laboratories, creating all manner of technology, which these empires then use to keep the rest of the world under control. That the plague is disfiguring and deadly to the vast majority of those who contract it is considered a worthwhile price to pay by the ruling powers in order to secure their continued superiority. It is a horrific practice, made even more so because it mirrors some very real atrocities in our own world.
The science behind The Impossible Cube is absolutely fascinating. The clockwork plague, as manifested in the clockworkers, allows them to see the puzzles of the universe unfold to the minutest detail, even as it destroys their minds in the process. Through Gavin, we’re given a taste of both the beauty and the madness of the disease, and I found it impossible not to be drawn into his battles, both the internal ones and those he helps wage against their enemies.
Though it is not a romance, the love between Gavin and Alice is reinforced throughout The Impossible Cube. Defying both logic and premonition, they fight for one another, even as the consequences of their actions become increasingly dire. Although the race to find a cure for Gavin drives them, both Gavin and Alice cannot help but try to save as many who are caught in the crossfire as they can, even if it costs them everything.
The Impossible Cube is a busy, complex tale that tries to bridge many disparate ideas: mathematics and music, theology and politics, mysticism and fate, and more. Interestingly, it does so fairly successfully within the boundaries of steampunk fantasy. Some of the more complicated exchanges took me several readings (and quite a few hours of distraction doing my own research—again), but it’s a fast-paced, imaginative story all the same. Beneath the exciting chases and nail-biting close calls, The Impossible Cube seems to suggest that real change is as costly as it is inevitable, but that sometimes hope and determination are enough to get you through.
Bs Rating:
Enjoyed – strongly recommend (A-)
Purchase Info: 
Reviews of books in the series:

3 responses to “Review: The Impossible Cube by Steven Harper

  1. I’m fascinated by the steampunk genre. There are so many with definitions of what is or is not considered steampunk. I suppose this series would fall into the hardline definiton where there could be no doubt of this series being a “steampunk” series.

  2. Angela: Steampunk is a tricky genre – isn’t it? I adore what Meljean Brook has done with steampunk romance. I’m also a fan of Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris have done in their series (I’ll be reviewing 2nd book in their series later this month). I’m an engineer at heart – so the gears and such just fascinate me!