Disclaimer: While I have previously received free copies of Cato’s works through the Harper Voyager Super Reader program, I purchased my own copy of this title.
“For a dead man, he was still terribly loud in her memory.”
Having escaped the clutches of her abusive father with the help of Octavia Leander in the events of The Clockwork Crown, Rivka finds herself trying to start a new life in Tamarania under the watchful eye of her grandmother, the formidable Mrs. Viola Stout. Rivka dreams of designing and constructing mechanical devices, but her lack of formal education, folksy Caskentian accent, and cleft palate all make it extremely unlikely that she will find an appropriate apprenticeship in Tamarania. When she wheedles her way into the workshop of the wealthy and powerful Mr. Cody, she hopes to find a way to gain some knowledge and work experience as a machinist, but instead she discovers that Cody’s famous chimeras are the result of a brutal and inhumane process that causes terrible suffering. Forming an uneasy alliance with Alonzo Garrett’s manipulative sister, Tatiana, the two girls attempt to square their career ambitions with the unsavoury work going on in Cody’s laboratory.
Wings of Sorrow and Bone is a novella set in the world of Beth Cato’s Clockwork Dagger books. It takes place after the fact, but can be read alone, though there are some spoilers for the events of the preceding novels; Cato struggles a bit to strike the right balance between bringing new readers into an existing world, and telling a new story. Two minor characters from the main duology—Viola Stout’s granddaughter, Rivka, and Alonzo Garrett’s sister, Tatiana—assume the roles of protagonists, becoming further fleshed out in the process. Wings of Sorrow and Bone has no romantic subplot, and focuses largely on the career aspirations and tentative friendship of two teenage girls, both of which are challenged when the girls encounter some of the darker realities of the professional world they hope to enter into. Mrs. Stout serves as a mentor and ally, but largely remains on the sidelines as the two girls try to find their way.
The world Cato developed in the Clockwork Dagger duology blends magic and science in unique and imaginative ways, but Wings of Sorrow and Bone deals with one of the more disturbing applications of this unusual mix. In Tamarania, a nation that largely reveres science and disdains magic, the politician Mr. Cody combines the two to create chimeras, unnatural creatures forged together from mechanical components and living parts taken from gremlins. The chimeras then fight in an arena, serving as a popular form of entertainment. Since gremlins are largely regarded as pests, no one protests this misuse. In The Clockwork Crown, protagonists Octavia and Alonzo become unwillingly complicit in this outrage when Alonzo bargains his piloting skills for a favour from Mr. Cody. However, dealing with it lies outside the scope of their main mission, and Cody’s depredations continue on. This, then, is social science fiction in the old tradition, using a fantasy world as an allegory for real-life ills, in this case, animal rights abuses. It falls to Rivka, Tatiana, and Mrs. Stout to try to find a way to put a stop to the work of a rich and powerful man, whose inventions are popular form of mass entertainment. Given Cody’s relative power, and the short length of this novella, I didn’t see how Cato was going to bring this plotline off in a believable fashion, but she manages it with astonishing aplomb, and a nod to one of my favourite childhood books, no less.
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