Jay Lake: Mainspring

Overall, I liked this and would recommend it, but was vaguely dissatisfied and am not sure why. I thought I first heard of it from a list of nominees for some award, but can’t find said list now. It sounded interesting (steampunk/airships/gears/everything is clockwork), and the library actually had it, so I checked it out.

The book starts off in New England, which is an English colony under the reign of Queen Victoria. The world itself is described as:

“God in His infinite wisdom had made the world so, hung Earth in the sky on the tracks of her orbit around the lamp of the sun, then left it alone, for man to find his way. After man’s fall into sin and error, God had sent His son to be the Brass Christ, redeeming man by showing the way to correct thought and deed.

Hethor knew there were heresies, folk who claimed that Christ had come to wind the Mainspring of the world again, and even that He was neither the first nor the last.

The angel Gabriel appears to the (sheltered/naïve teenage orphan) clockmaker’s apprentice Hethor and tells him that “The Key Perilous is lost.” and that “The Mainspring of the world runs down…only a man, created in the image of the Tetragrammaton, can set it right.” Hethor sets off from New Haven to Boston to see the court mystic William of Ghent, fails to be taken seriously, and ends up on Her Imperial Majesty’s Ship of the Air Bassett, which is on a mission to the Equatorial Wall to support troops who are attempting to make a base there. He manages to cross the Wall (where the gears of the Earth run on the tracks in the sky) and heads south. The front flap describes it as a journey “from innocence and ignorance to power and self-knowledge.”

The positive: I loved the world itself (though I wouldn’t want to live there); I am a sucker for steampunk-type settings and felt this one was well-constructed/described and internally consistent. I was interested in most of the characters, even Hethor himself (not teenage or male; generally read this sort of book for the settings and side characters and plot). I like Lake’s writing style (the right balance of description/exposition/action for me), though I’m not a particularly visual reader and did have problems a couple of times figuring out what was happening (I have a bad habit of skimming long descriptions).

Minor and personal issues: I was interested in some of the side characters, and wish there had been some way to find out their fates. The lack of female characters bothered me a little; I think there were three named in the book, and I don’t think there were really any in the background, either. I know some of that was due to the world itself (or at least the parts Hethor saw), and I would hate to see token female characters. I’m not sure if the ending was what I would have expected from the beginning (a bit of an anti-climax), though the plot unfolded in a consistent and logical manner.

The negative: One of Hethor’s actions near the end made me hate him a little, and I’m not sure I can accept his justification for that action.

I enjoyed this book, would recommend it, and look forward to reading more by the author.

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2 Responses to Jay Lake: Mainspring

  1. Jay Lake says:

    FWIW, the second book has three protags, two of whom are female. Thanks for the comments!

  2. Nika says:

    Good site! I’ll stay reading! Keep improving!

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