There are stories that sweep you away, and others that keep you entertained, but some feel like timeless classics. Clockwork Angels is one of those stories. In a unique collaboration between music and literature, Kevin J. Anderson teamed up with Neil Peart, the drummer, percussionist and lyricist for Rush. Together they formed an adventure around a young man in a steampunk world run by alchemy and a reclusive figure called the Watchmaker. Through twists and turns, it’s a bit of a coming of age story, and a fun one that can appeal to all ages.
The star of Clockwork Angels is Owen Hardy. Owen is a young man who is about to turn seventeen. He lives in a the quiet village of Barrel Arbor with his dad and their pleasant little apple orchard. Soon he will become a man, assistant manager of his father’s apple orchard, and by decree of the Watchmaker, he’ll be wed to his childhood sweetheart. However, Owen is a restless soul. He longs for adventure, to see the world, and to explore the reaches of his imagination. The world created by the Watchmaker is a neat and orderly place. In fact, it’s exacting. Everyone is assigned a role and told what to do. Freedom is often sacrificed for security and stability. While it’s not a harsh and oppressive regime, it doesn’t leave much room for a boy with a wild imagination. As can be expected, he journeys into the greater world. There he finds awe inspiring sights, new depths of pleasure, and the harsh lessons of a sometimes cruel world. While Watchmaker runs his perfect empire, there is one who would stand against him: the Anarchist.
It’s a good story and it had the distinct feeling of one that could be enjoyed by all ages. Kevin J. Anderson didn’t dig into any adult material that would be inappropriate for younger audiences. The message and plot of the story was straightforward and would be easily accessible to kids. The story also had a certain timeless appeal to it that can be appreciated by older audiences. Owen’s eagerness to explore life is a universal message that crosses all boundaries. The lessons he learns are ones we can all relate to.
There are some things that would have made the story better, though they would have changed the scope of the book. I would have enjoyed seeing more intelligent, skillfully manipulative schemes from the Watchmaker and the Anarchist. As is, both came off too closed minded and inept. Neither of them ever came close to winning Owen’s allegiance. As a reader, I never felt there was any threat that Owen would make a bad decision and choose one side or the other. Had there been more done with that, it could have added a deep intellectual and/or emotional angle to the story.
The main focus of the book always seemed to reside in the story itself. The driving factor was always Owen’s adventure. Sometimes the book would show the Watchmaker’s perspective or the Anarchist’s perspective, but it was always a side trip to add to the main plot. While all the characters were fleshed out pretty well, the novel never plunges too deeply into any of them. There weren’t any moments were I was washed away by the vividness of characters. Nor was there a ton of action to get lost in. Instead the driving focus was always on the story itself. Owen’s adventure moves the reader along from place to place, character to character. With action and drama sprinkle here and there, it’s the primary source of the book’s fun.
I’m not sure if it was intended or not, but I had the feeling that the book had a very defined scope to it. It really did feel like a classic children’s novel. Now I don’t mean that in a bad way because such stories certainly have their value and can still be enjoyed by adults. The coming of age aspect of the story was one part of it. The other is that the subject material was pretty much PG rated throughout. Sex happened off page. Violence was not graphically described. Plus the book included illustrations (which were beautifully done, though they didn’t always depict the imagery I wanted to see from the story). Even the quality of the book itself felt like something meant to last several generations. On top of all that, the storytelling focuses more on the story than the characters which is reminiscent of older styles of writing. When put together, all these elements had a feel of nostalgia to them that I couldn’t help but connect to the stories I read as a child. I kind of enjoyed that aspect of it.
In the end, Clockwork Angels is book that could be compared to the likes of Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. There’s a timeless quality to the story and it has a message that can be enjoyed by all ages. It’s a fun read that moves briskly along without digging too deep into serious drama issues. I felt it lacked a little punch, but it made for a good, light read. For all of that, I give it a four out of five metal bikinis.