Review: The Dragon Men by Steven Harper

Posted November 21, 2012 by B. in 4 stars, Rating A, Steampunk Fiction Tags: , , ,

The Dragon Men
Author: Steven Harper 
Release Date: Nov. 6, 2012
Publisher: ROC
The Clockwork Empire # 3
ISBN: #978-0451464880
Genre: Steampunk, Fantasy
Format(s): Paperback (400 pgs),
Book Source: Publisher
About the book:
Gavin Ennock has everything a man could desire—except time. As the clockwork plague consumes his body and mind, it drives him increasingly mad and fractures his relationship with his fiancée, Alice, Lady Michaels. Their only hope is that the Dragon Men of China can cure him.
But a power-mad general has seized the Chinese throne in a determined offensive to conquer Asia, Britain—indeed, the entire world. He has closed the country’s borders to all foreigners. The former ruling dynasty, however, is scheming to return the rightful heir to power. Their designs will draw Gavin and Alice down a treacherous path strewn with intrigue and power struggles. One wrong step will seal Gavin’s fate…and determine the future of the world.
What B is talking about:
Lady Alice Michaels and Gavin Ennock have had more than their share of obstacles and difficulties in the short time they’ve been together. First, Alice lost her father and found herself in the middle of an underground revolution, then Gavin was infected with the clockwork plague and began the resulting slide into both brilliance and madness, and, finally, the universe was nearly ripped apart by yet another mad clockworker in an attempt to stop time and literally give Gavin and Alice an eternity together. Now they’re racing towards a cure for Gavin that may not even exist while Alice has a bounty on her head.
While The Dragon Men can be enjoyed as a standalone novel, I highly recommend reading the entire series. Mr. Harper very thoughtfully includes a summary of the story to date as a prologue, which should be very helpful to readers who are new to the series. This brief introduction might have been redundant if I’d read the stories back-to-back, but since there’s been some time between books for me, I was very grateful for the reminder.
Alice and Gavin feel so comfortable to me as a couple by this point, I find their endearments and interactions completely natural and unaffected. With the responsibilities they both carry, it’s easy to forget that they’re still quite young, twenty-three and nineteen, respectively, but Mr. Harper manages to use their passion vs. propriety interactions to great effect in these instances. The greatest threat to their union isn’t from any outside force, but more from their own self-doubts, which are brought up sparingly enough that they don’t weigh the relationship down. Likewise, there’s just enough sexual tension between the two to keep their devotion to each other enjoyable.
With the exception of Lieutenant Susan Phipps, The Dragon Men introduces a cast of new characters, most of whom are from an entirely different culture than what Gavin and Alice have encountered before. There is an underlying commentary about the need for political inclusion, rather than exclusion, made by noting that one nation cannot reasonably point out the atrocities of another without acknowledging their own. The characters come to terms with each other when they admit that all nations have sinned against humanity, but by evening the score militaristically, that is, without the ability to hide behind advanced technology, peace might actually be an attainable goal.
The only real drawback in the novel is, unfortunately, its attempt at explaining the how’s and why’s of the universe itself. Mr. Harper touches on this idea throughout the series, but spends a good bit more time on it in The Dragon Men, not only via Gavin’s clockworker “fugues,” but mostly through his interactions with his father towards the end of the story. The exploration of the layers upon layers of mysteries that Gavin is able to decipher nearly lost me once or twice, but I liked being challenged by the ideas behind it all the same.
The Dragon Men is my favorite book in the series yet. I’m not sure whether that’s because I’ve become so enamored with the world of the Clockwork Empire as a whole, or that the action sequences are nearly relentless, which a definite plus in this case. The main characters have little time for introspection in this story, and even less time for regret. Alice and Gavin have set a course of action in the previous novels and are hell-bent on carrying it out as best they can in this one. There is plenty of science and philosophical thought to consider as well, and a sweetness between Gavin and Alice that ties everything together. While I’m happy with the way the story is resolved, I’m a little sad that their story feels so complete. Luckily, the next novel in the series is due out next year, and I’m nervously excited to see what sort of chaos Mr. Harper will deliver next.
Bs Rating:
Enjoyed – strongly recommend (A-)
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