His Clockwork Canary
This is the first book I have read by this author, and I finished it with rather mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was delighted by the world she had created and its interesting and intricate history. On the other hand, the characters could do the craziest things at times and the author stuck too much to conventional historical romance novel tropes to really pull off what she seemed to be trying to achieve.
In 1851 time travel was proven possible by one Briscoe Darcy. Disappearing in a kaleidoscope of light and color, he travelled 100 and some years into the future, vanishing forever. In 1856 the answer to the mystery of when he went is answered. Apparently he had landed in the 1960s, a factor which enabled a group of peace minded men and women known as Mods to travel back in time to change the dark fate of humanity. They spread the motto “Make Love, Not War” in the hopes of bringing peace to the entire world. Instead, they caused a war, leaked information regarding dangerous technology, mated with the local population which created a race of super powered humans known as Freaks, and led humanity on what appears to be a far more dangerous path for the future.
Simon Darcy is a distant cousin to the original time traveler. The year is now 1887 and Simon’s father has just died while trying to take a rocket to the moon. Making matters even worse is the fact that his father had invested the family money in a monorail project which failed abysmally. They are broke and in danger of losing their ancestral home.
As luck would have it The Royal Rejuvenation contest will be taking place for the next six months, promising the winner fame and fortune. To honor Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, the winner will need to find a legendary technological invention of historical significance and donate it to Her Majesty’s British Science Museum. Simon’s plan is to find the time travel engine the Mods used to travel to 1856 and win the contest. This is easier said than done, since no one has laid eyes on the engine during the last thirty years.
Wilhelmina (Willie) Goodenough has spent the last several years struggling to survive in a world prejudice against both women and Freaks. Her job as a reporter known as the Clockwork Canary has enabled her to dress in men’s clothes and the corneatacts she wears hide her distinctive Freak kaleidoscope eyes. Willie’s latest assignment for her paper has her in something of a dither. She must write about Simon’s adventures in searching for the time travel engine. In the days when Willie had been Mina, a carefree young girl, she and Simon had had an ill-fated affair. Will she be able to keep her secret from Simon?
The situation is made even more perilous when Willie is approached by a man who knows all her secrets. Threatening to out her as both a woman and a Freak, the man forces Willie to agree to work as his spy on Simon’s journey. His intent? To swoop in and steal the device from Simon at the last minute.
Simon has never forgotten Mina and when he meets up with the Clockwork Canary he quickly puts two and two together. While he finds that he is still deeply attracted to her, he is upset over the manner in which they departed. Even as he works with her to track down the first of their leads, he struggles with his mixed feelings of desire and betrayal.
Willie has always been convinced that the fact she is a Freak is what turned Simon against her. His racism has been a deep wound which has kept her from believing in a happy ever after under the existing system of government. Wishing to fight for a better tomorrow she has joined a Freak group and utilizes her position as a reporter to publish articles favoring equal rights for her people. Yet even as she despises Simon’s bigotry, she finds herself completely drawn to him. Working together will force her to reveal even more of her Freak nature to him. Will he respond with disgust or grow to love her for who she is?
I was grateful that only the first third or so of the book is spent grappling with the issue of their past and Simon’s possible bigotry. When all is made clear they believe each other and work together to solve the mysteries surrounding the engine. Simon can be a bit of a jerk, as he is both proud and competitive but his qualities of fair play and a desire to fight for justice balance that out to an extent. Willie, for all her rough and tumble exterior, has a sweet interior and a clever mind. They make an excellent pair when it comes to achieving their ends vis-à-vis the time travel device and I liked them well enough as a couple.</P.
Yet I couldn’t get into their story very much. As mentioned before, the world building was absolutely fabulous but the unconventional young woman meets and entrances aristocratic alpha male has been a plot done so often that I simply couldn’t get myself very excited about their romance. The plotting and mystery surrounding the time travel engine is intriguing but made up only a small portion of the book. The action follows patterns we have all seen in romance novels before, with the hero and heroine proving heroic and clever at equal measures throughout the tale. This mix of something old, in the general outline of the book, and something new in the world building fizzled more than it flamed.
Would I recommend this book? I would give it a qualified recommendation. If you absolutely love steam punk then I would suggest reading it. It is worth it for the world building alone. If you are not a fan of that genre, I would give it a pass. There isn’t anything here that will make a convert of you.