Saturday, October 2, 2010

Review: Clockwork Heart, by Dru Pagliassotti

I just loaned out my copy of Clockwork Heart to my younger cousin, who's herself a voracious reader, so I can't dive in-depth with page numbers and exacting names as I would ordinarily have liked to, but it's memorable enough for me to be able to comment on some larger issues.

But firstly, you should know that I liked it.
Clockwork Heart is the story of Taya Icarus, and her entanglement with two brothers from the ruling caste in the grand city of Ondinium that has had peace, as well as rigid social rules, for the last thousand years. She flies with wings that are made light with the material that gives the city its name, delivering messages and packages in between the castes.

The classes are separated into four: the administrative ruling class, executive police caste, labouring proles, and free-flying icarii who run messages between all three rings of society. Dru Pagliassotti draws clear lines between them - their functions in society, how they relate to each other, how trapped they are in their own castes. The ruling class, decaturs, are viewed as those who are near-perfect, ready for the Final Forging by the goddess that the people of Ondinium believe in. As such, they wear metal masks in the presence of the lower-classes, and it is taboo to see the face of a decatur. Each member of the groups have different tattoos or emblems to signify their place.

After a daring rescue, Taya Icarus is suddenly the center of attention, and she becomes the target for the affections of Alistair, a charming decatur, cousin to the woman she rescued. He is handsome, intelligent, and the greatest programmer of the engines that run the city. Alistair has big dreams for the improvement of Ondinium society. His flirtations are suave, and he is open with his attraction to Taya. In contrast, his elder brother Cristof lives in the tiertiary level of the city as a humble, socially-awkward clock repairman, cantankerous and grumpy to all he meets. Disillusioned by the ruling class, Cristof has renounced his position and birthright, living barefaced, although he still retains his finances. As the book progresses, as do Taya's relationships with Alistair and Cristof, but never in a love-at-first-sight sort of quick pace that some romances demand of their characters. Instead, we are guided through Taya's impressions of both brothers, comparing and contrasting, and even though it's easy to empathize with Taya, we still have enough room to decide which brother we like better. 

Pagliassotti has created a believable secondary world, in which Ondinium is the main focus, but there are reminders that it is not the only location that matters. It has rivalries and trade with other countries, with associated roles - Taya is applying for a diplomatic position in order to travel further afield than merely between classes. The people are not just a white default; Taya is the child of immigrants, and deals with other immigrants, whose languages she has learned and attempts to speak. Each group has their own stereotypes and opinions about other groups, and appropriate relationships and tensions. There is an underground group that hates how the government runs, even as the engines run loyalty tests on the people, called the Torn Cards - so-called for their calling card, torn programming cards, that they leave at the sites of their terrorist attacks.

I'll be using this as one of my primary texts as an example of good treatment of racial issues, even though the secondary world element of it makes it a racial  parallel/analogy which isn't as good as as dealing with actual racial issues (unlike, say, Dreadnought).

Still! This steampunk postcolonialist gives it a Yay, as a fun read, thrilling adventure, sappy romance, and LOL icarus fashion couture!

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