Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Steampunk

The Clockwork Crown (Clockwork Dagger #2)

clockwork-crownby Beth Cato

ISBN 978-0-06-231398-0

Disclaimer: I received a free advance review copy of this book as part of the Harper Voyager Super Reader program. This title will be published on June 9, 2015.

“The Lady’s Tree moored its roots to the very spirit of the earth. Through the Tree, Octavia could heal with prowess beyond any other known medician. Lately, however, the Lady’s magic had changed. Octavia had changed. Her power through the Lady had increased, and she wasn’t sure if it was truly for the better.”

Having escaped numerous assassination and kidnapping attempts from Caskentians and Wasters alike in The Clockwork Dagger, Octavia Leander and Alonzo Garrett travel south to his homeland of Tamarania, where they hope the great libraries of the Southern nations will cast light on the mystery of the origins of the Lady and her Tree, and Octavia’s growing powers as a medician. As they attempt to parse history from mythology, Octavia begins to suspect that her unusually strong powers come with a price she was never told about. With Clockwork Daggers and agents of the Waste still in hot pursuit, they turn their eyes back to the Waste, where the Lady’s Tree is hidden, seeking answers from the source itself, even as Octavia is stricken by a creeping rash that no prayer to the Lady can heal.

Since Octavia’s powers are drawn from the Lady, it is perhaps not surprising that there are many deus ex machina solutions in both The Clockwork Dagger and The Clockwork Crown. However, in this volume, the device is less bothersome, because magic is the cause of at least as many problems as it solves. Octavia’s mysterious ailment seems to be magical in nature, and to spread when she uses her powers. As her powers continue to grow beyond anything recorded in the history of medicians, the life songs of the people around her become so overwhelming she fears losing her mind. And as she delves into the history of the Waste, she learns that the curse the Dallowmen claim Caskentia placed on their land may be real after all. Visiting Mercia for the first time, she also comes to suspect that the pollution and illness that thrives in Caskentia’s capital may not be natural either. For every problem a prayer to the Lady solves, two more pop up to takes its place.

The direct intercession of the Lady is interesting as more than a deus ex machina, however. Her increasing communications with Octavia turn the Lady into a character in her own right, presenting Cato with the interesting problem of developing a goddess as an interesting player in the story. The Lady becomes more than just the distant and even theoretical source of Octavia’s power, and instead is presented as a being with an agenda and interests of her own. This development is complicated by the fact that Octavia is beginning to doubt that her own agenda is compatible with that of the Lady she has prayed to all her life, provoking a crisis of faith. These changes bring significant depth and dimension to The Clockwork Crown.

There are many plot arcs at play in this volume, and as a duology rather than the more usual trilogy, Cato has a lot of ground to cover, and events to tie up. She manages to tag all the bases, but doing so involves a lot of running around; in the course of the book Octavia travels from Caskentia to Tamaranian to Mercia to the Waste, all in a relatively short period of time. Octavia and Alonzo are frequently separated, and he doesn’t get as much page-time in the sequel, but their understated romance still has some significant development. While Clockwork Dagger favourite Mrs. Stout makes a cursory appearance, she unfortunately has a much less significant role to play in the events of the sequel. These reductions make way for a surprising new companion, much heard of but never seen in The Clockwork Dagger, who joins Octavia in Mercia and accompanies her to the Waste.

The Clockwork Dagger Duology offers an unusual blend of steampunk backdrop and faith-based magic system that gives the series a more fantastic feel. The characters develop along satisfying arcs and form nuanced relationships.  It is almost a shame that the series is over just as Cato seems to have really found her stride.


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