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The Clockwork Crown by Beth Cato

The Clockwork Crown by Beth Cato
Book Name: The Clockwork Crown
Author: Beth Cato
Publisher(s): Harper Voyager
Formatt: Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Steampunk
Release Date: June 9, 2015 (US) July 16, 2015 (UK)

The Clockwork Dagger amazed me with the rich world Beth Cato created of Caskentia, devoted to the worship of a woman turned into a mystical tree, and Tamarania, more reverential toward science and logic than to any religion. It drew me in with Octavia Leander, a healer more than capable of looking after herself in dangerous situations; Alonzo Garret, the man who made himself her protector; and Viola Stout, who is quite possibly my favorite take on the “lost princess” trope, as this lost princess is neither a waifish beauty nor a scrappy street girl but a middle-aged woman who publishes popular fiction with her husband. The novel was steampunk, but set free from Victorian London and capable of exploring the conflict between science and religion without any need to be true to a narrow historical era.

There’s a lot there to live up to, but the sequel does so admirably.

There’s a common belief in the world of fiction that a sequel can rarely live up to its predecessor, the direct-to-video Disney movies providing a prime example. There are many exceptions, however: The Two Towers is, in my opinion, just as good as The Fellowship of the Ring (though since all the books were meant to be published in one volume, this example may not count; and The Wrath of Khan surpasses Star Trek: The Motion Picture, just as The Empire Strikes Back is better than A New Hope (again, not a perfect example, though in this case only because the difference between the Star Trek movies is greater than that between the Star Wars movies). The same holds true in books; very often, sequels don’t have the same quality as the first book in a series. The Clockwork Crown is an exception to this rule.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s The Wrath of Khan or even The Empire Strikes Back. If I may stick with the movie comparisons, it’s more like How to Train Your Dragon 2. It’s just as good as the first book, it feels like a logical continuation of the story, and it functions exactly as a good sequel ought to by expanding on the world of the story.

Expanding on the world of the story may be where so many sequels fall apart, because the author has to give the reader new information (and, ideally, follow through on hints and teases dropped in the previous book) while not contradicting or entirely abandoning the information in the previous book. The Clockwork Crown could have very easily proved something of a disappointment, as it starts out with Octavia and Alonzo traveling from Caskentia to Tamarania, but Beth Cato doesn’t make it feel like a jarring transition. It feels perfectly natural for the two of them to go to Tamarania, and before long I was swept up into the story and would have followed them anywhere.

The conflict between science and religion plays a larger part in this book, as Octavia must try to negotiate her way through a country which at best disbelieves in her ability to draw on power from the Lady and at worst mocks her for playing to superstition. At the same time, some Tamaranians do accept that some of what she does is real, leading to a harrowing but very well-written scene on a train which keeps Tamarania from being a single-faceted society. Cato even uses the time Octavia and Alonzo spend there to give us some scraps of information about things from the first book, like the glowing road Octavia saw from aboard the airship and even more about the history and biology of gremlins.

As a sucker for world-building, I would have been perfectly happy to read about Octavia and Alonzo traveling through Tamarania and experiencing more of its culture. If that had been the whole book, I might have felt somewhat let down at the end, but it would have been an enjoyable experience until I realized just how little had happened. Cato doesn’t fall into the trap of making the novelty of a new country the sole focus, however. Near the start of the book, Octavia finds a strange growth on her arm that she can’t explain. It’s a part of her body, but it doesn’t appear at all natural. It’s rough and brown, and worse still, it seems to be growing.

The other way this book acts as a sequel ought to is that it allows things to change. The Lady’s appearance at the end of The Clockwork Dagger shocked the Dallowmen and Octavia, and things haven’t returned to the status quo by the start of The Clockwork Crown. People all over Caskentia are talking about how the Lady’s tree suddenly appeared and then vanished, and several expeditions have been started in an attempt to find it again.

Octavia, too, has changed, and not just because of the strange growth on her arm. She has realized that the Lady is not always kind and benevolent but can be dangerous and even deadly, and while this doesn’t open up a full-blown crisis of faith, it does make her question what she knows (or thinks she knows) about the Lady and wonder whether there’s more to the story than she’s been told. As it turns out, with almost all things in fantasy novels, there is, but in this case, there is no grand conspiracy. The loss of knowledge simply comes from the passage of time.

To say more might be to say too much, so I will simply say that if you enjoyed seeing the Lady’s dangerous side at the end of the last book, you’ll definitely enjoy reading The Clockwork Crown. It’s a wonderful continuation of Octavia’s story, and I loved every moment of it.


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