Jay Lake’s first trade novel is an astounding creation. Lake has envisioned a clockwork solar system, where the planets move in a vast system of gears around the lamp of the Sun. It is a universe where the hand of the Creator is visible to anyone who simply looks up into the sky, and sees the track of the heavens, the wheels of the Moon, and the great Equatorial gears of the Earth itself.
Mainspring is the story of a young clockmaker's apprentice, who is visited by the Archangel Gabriel. He is told that he must take the Key Perilous and rewind the Mainspring of the Earth. It is running down, and disaster will ensue if it's not rewound. From innocence and ignorance to power and self-knowledge, the young man will make the long and perilous journey to the South Polar Axis, to fulfill the commandment of his God.
About the Author
Jay Lake is the winner of the 2004 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. He is the author of over 100 published short stories, and has been nominated for the Hugo Award and the World Fantasy Award.
Read an Excerpt
The angel gleamed in the light of Hethor’s reading candle bright as any brasswork automaton. The young man clutched his threadbare coverlet in the irrational hope that the quilted cotton scraps could shield him from whatever power had invaded his attic room. Trembling, he closed his eyes.
His master, the clockmaker Franklin Bodean, had taught Hethor to listen to the mechanisms of their work. But he’d found that he could listen to life, too. Hethor heard first and always his own breathing, even now heavy and slow despite his burgeoning sense of fear.
The old house on New Haven’s King George III Street creaked as it always did. A horse clopped past outside, buggy wheels rattling along with the echo of hooves on cobbles. Great steam-driven foghorns echoed over Long Island Sound. The new electrick lamps lighting the street outside hissed and popped. Underneath the noises of the city lay the ticking of Master Bodean’s clocks, and under that, if he listened very hard, the rattle of the world’s turning.
But there was no one in the room with him. No one else drew breath; no floorboard creaked. No strange smells either. Merely his own familiar sweat, the hot-tallow scent of his candle, the oils of the house—wood and machine—and a ribbon of salt air from the nearby sea.
Was this a dream?
“I am alone.” He said it as something between a prayer and the kind of spell he used to try to cast in the summer woods when he was a boy—calling on Indian lore and God’s word and dark magic from the Southern Earth and the timeless power of stone walls and spreading oaks.
Finally Hethor opened his eyes.
The angel was still there.
It no longer seemed made of brasswork. Rather, it looked almost human, save for the height, tall as his ceiling at the attic’s peak, close to seven feet. The great wings crowded the angel’s back to sweep close across its body like a cloak, feathers white as a swan. Its skin was pale as Hethor’s own, but the face was narrow, shaped like the nib of a fountain pen, with a pointed chin and gleaming black eyes. The lines and planes of the angel’s visage were sheer masterwork, finer than the statues of saints in the great churches of New Haven.
Hethor held his breath, afraid to even share the air with such perfection. No dream, this, but perhaps yet a nightmare.
The angel smiled. For the first time it appeared to be more than a statue. “Greetings, Hethor Jacques.”
With voice came breath, though the angel’s scent was still that of a statue—cold marble and damp stone. Or perhaps old metal, like a well-made clock.
Hethor dropped his grip on the blanket to grab the chain around his neck and traced the wheel-and-gear of Christ’s horofixion. “G-g-greetings . . . ,” he stammered. “And welcome.” Though that last was a lie, he felt he must say it.
“I am Gabriel,” said the angel, “come to charge you with a duty.”
“Duty.” Hethor sucked air between his teeth and lips, finally filling aching lungs with breath he had not even realized he had been holding in the strangeness of the moment. “My life is filled with duty, sir.” Duty to Master Bodean, to his studies at New Haven Latin Grammar School, to his late parents and the church and the crown.
The angel appeared to ignore Hethor’s statement. “The Key Perilous is lost.”
Key Perilous? Hethor had never heard of it. “I . . .”
“The Mainspring of the world winds down,” the angel continued. “Only a man, created in the image of the Tetragrammaton, can set it right. Only you, Hethor.”
Hethor’s fists clenched so tight he felt the tendons stand out. His pulse hissed in his ears. This was a trick, a trap, some fiendish silliness dreamt up by Bodean’s dreadful sons and their Yale friends. “There are no angels. Not anymore.”
Gabriel extended a fist toward Hethor, nearing the apprentice in his bed without seeming to move. The angel’s wings parted to reveal a body of marbled perfection clothed in a state of nature. The angel twisted its hand palm up and opened its fingers.
A tiny feather lay there. It was not much larger than the goose down from Hethor’s often-patched pillow. The angel pursed its lips, blew a breath that sparkled like shooting stars in a summer sky, then vanished. A thunderclap nearly deafened Hethor. As he shook his head to clear the noise, he heard all the bells of the house and shop below him ringing, clanging, banging—hundreds of clocks chiming heaven’s hour at once.
Master Bodean’s sleep-muddled curses rose through the floor as the tiny feather circled where the angel had stood.
Hethor scooped it up, cutting his right palm in the process. As he struggled left-handed into his breeches, he looked at what he had caught.
The feather was solid silver, with razored edges. It gleamed in the candlelight. The cut on his palm was in the shape of a key.
“Hethor!” bellowed Master Bodean from below. “Are yer alive up there, boy?”
“Coming, sir,” Hethor yelled back. Setting the feather on his writing desk, he stepped into his boots—two sizes too small—grabbed his coat, which was a size too small, and raced out the little door and down the attic stairs.
It took more than an hour to settle all the clocks in Master Bodean’s workshop. Some had sounded out the sum of the hours—the holy number twelve—then resumed their ticking slumber. Others, especially the smaller, more delicate mechanisms, had been possessed of a nervous tinkling that could only be dampened by careful attention with rubber mallets and soft chamois. Hethor and Master Bodean moved from clock to clock, ministering to their brass and copper hearts, right through the chiming of eleven o’clock of the evening.
Finally they stood in the workroom. Both were exhausted from the hour and the work. Master Bodean, red-faced and round-bodied in his nightshirt and gray cable-knit sweater, nodded to Hethor. “Good work, boy.” He was always a fair man, even in meting out punishments.
“Thank you, sir.” Hethor glanced around the workroom. All was in comforting and familiar order. A tiny furnace, newly powered by electricks. Casting slugs. Tools, ranging from hammers almost too small to see to vises large enough to crack a man’s head. And parts in their bins; springs and gears and escapements, all the myriad incarnations of brass, steel, and movement jewels.
It seemed as if the angel Gabriel—archangel? Hethor suddenly wondered—had risen from the genius loci of this workshop. He had felt a sense of deliberation, precision, even power, from his visitor that reminded him of the greatest and slowest of clocks.
“Yer all right, boy?” Bodean asked, interrupting Hethor’s reverie. “You’re ordinarily a bit more talkish than this.”
Hethor found himself unwilling to mention the angel. Bodean would have thought him mad, for one thing. The very idea sounded horrendously self-important. He needed to sort his own thoughts, try to understand what had taken place. “I . . . it was the lightning, Master. It frightened me.”
“Lightning, eh? Some bolt that must’ve been. Never seen a storm set all the clocks a-chiming before.” Bodean shook his head. “Lightning and more than lightning. One of the good Lord’s mysteries, I’ll warrant.” He walked over to his locked cupboards and pulled a set of keys from a pocket in his nightshirt. He took down a small pewter flask and two tumblers. “Sounds like you need a little lightning of your own, boy.” Golden liquid splashed into each glass. “This’ll help you sleep.”
Hethor had never tasted anything stronger than table wine. The whiskey, or whatever it was, had no attraction for him. Yet here was Master Bodean, holding out the little glass, smiling. Hethor took it and sniffed. He almost choked on the sharp scent alone.
“This is true lightning,” said Master Bodean with a broken-toothed grin. He tipped the glass to his lips and drank it all in one quick swallow.
Hethor tried to imitate Bodean. It was like drinking fire. The whiskey went down, barely. He had to cup his hand over his lips to keep from coughing some of it out. It tasted like he imagined lamp oil might taste—foul and sharp and strange.
Laughing, Master Bodean slapped Hethor’s back, which only made the choking worse. “Never fear, lad, this will all seem less than a dream to yer in the morning.”
Hethor stumbled to bed to lie hot and thick-skulled under his blanket waiting for sleep. He barely heard the clatter of sidereal midnight echoing through the skies, never heard the clocks of the house strike the twelfth hour. Cotton-mouthed and woolly-headed, he dreamt all night of keys and feathers and clocks with steel teeth.
Morning brought sunlight, a headache, and the realization that he was going to be late for his studies at New Haven Latin. Hethor scrambled into his good trousers and his second-best shirt while he tried to shake the clouds out of his mind. Though he kept no clock in his attic room, Hethor always knew the time. He would be late for Master Sullivan’s maths class. Knowing Master Sullivan, the door would be locked and Hethor would be forced to seek Headmaster Brownlee’s indulgence.
As a mere apprentice, that was dangerous. No one would think to question Brownlee throwing a boy of Hethor’s low standing out of school, even in his final year. Only Master Bodean’s goodwill and the last of the money from Hethor’s late father had kept him enrolled until the age of sixteen.
Hethor shrugged into his corduroy coat—yet another Bodean family hand-me-down. Boots gripped by his fingertips, he was just about to hurl himself out the door and down the stairs when something caught his eye. It was the little silver feather, glinting on his writing desk.
The previous night came back to him in a collapsing rush: the angel Gabriel and the feather and the clocks and the Key Perilous.
He was not mad; he had not dreamed. But he needed to understand before he could explain it to Master Bodean or anyone else.
Hethor dropped the boots, stepped into them, swept up the feather, and clattered down the stairs. New Haven Latin lay fifteen minutes’ walk south and east of Bodean’s Finer Clocks, Repairs and Special Commissions Welcome. Instead, Hethor headed along King George III Street and left on Elm Street. West, toward Yale University and deeper into Headmaster Brownlee’s bad books.
The angel’s visit had been too real to ignore.
Master Bodean’s eldest son, Pryce, read divinity at the Berkeley School at Yale. Of Bodean’s three boys, Pryce had spent the least time tormenting Hethor since he had moved into the Bodean attic at the age of eleven. In point of fact, Pryce had spent the least time paying any attention to Hethor whatsoever. On the few occasions when they had spoken, Pryce had been the most considerate, if not exactly kind.
Hethor hoped his master’s eldest would grant him some counsel, out of loyalty to his father. Or possibly sheer Christian virtue if nothing else.
Pryce pursued most of his studies in Yale’s Fayerweather Hall. Hethor set his course for the university, figuring on locating the building when he got there. The morning was fine, beeches and elms along Elm Street in bloom, flowerbeds beneath them bright with the colors of spring. The air tasted of May, while the dust of dozens of varietals of bloom tickled his nose. The brass ring of the Earth’s orbital track glinted bright in the cloudless sky, its curve making horns that arced across the blue. There were few enough people out that the day almost seemed to belong to him. Electrick trolleys that he had never had enough spare money to ride rattled by every so often. A few horsemen passed as well, but otherwise the street was as quiet as the morning of Creation. Not even the nannies were out with their charges yet. The morning dew hadn’t quite burned off, lending damp potential to the day.
The campus itself surprised Hethor. Having come to New Haven only for his apprenticeship to Master Bodean—a seven-day-a-week affair, save for school and church—he’d never had the opportunity to simply wander the streets. Rushing about on his master’s errands, head down and feet pounding, Hethor didn’t know much of the city except as a limited collection of well-traveled routes.
Yale insinuated itself in the heart of New Haven as though the university were a vital organ in its own right. First a building here or there—a church, a students’ rooming house—each marked by a discreet sign or a college coat of arms. Then suddenly wide-lawned parks and a bloom of towering red brick buildings with white trim. His own New Haven Latin school was but a pale imitation of these great precincts of learning.
He found Fayerweather Hall by virtue of nearly running into a signpost that announced the Berkeley Oval. Fayerweather was one of five such buildings standing on a circled drive just off Elm Street.
Hethor gripped his bookstrap tight and ascended the worn marble steps. With luck, Pryce Bodean would be somewhere within. With more luck, Pryce would agree to see Hethor. With the greatest luck of all, Hethor might be able to slip back into his own school without being suspended or worse.
The elderly porter was almost kind to Hethor, making him wait inside a dusty room occupied mostly by wide-headed brushes intended for the cleaning of sidewalks. Hethor didn’t mind. He stared out a grubby window set in an odd corner of the building’s front and rubbed the silver feather between his fingers, careful to avoid the sharp edges.
Elm Street was still slow and quiet. Here within the confines of Fayerweather Hall, Hethor felt a kind of peace.
The porter came back, rattling the door as he opened it. “Mister Bodean will see you in the receiving room,” the old man said, balanced on the edge between dignity and pomposity.
Together they walked across a hall that gleamed with the labor of generations of charwomen. The porter held open a door eight feet tall and four feet wide.
No one had ever held a door for Hethor before.
The receiving room contained two tables, with chairs on each side, surrounded by book-lined walls. Tall, narrow windows faced trees outside. Pryce Bodean stood behind the second table, by his build and features a short, thin copy of his father. Where Master Franklin Bodean was ruddy with thick dark hair fading to silver, Pryce was pale, green-eyed, his sandy hair already growing sparse—his late mother’s coloration.
Hethor had known Mistress Bodean for less than a year before a stroke took first her speech, then her life.
“Have you an errand from my father?” Pryce asked in a clear, thoughtful voice, as if he were even now practicing to preach. “Porter Andrew implied that this was so.”
“No, sir,” Hethor said slowly. He had to be careful, lest Pryce simply have him thrown out, then send a message to Master Bodean that Hethor was skylarking instead of studying. “I am in sore need of advice.”
“An apprentice takes his guidance from his master.” Pryce allowed a measured tone of exasperation into his cadenced speech. “Surely my father can aid you in whatever petty concerns you have found to occupy your idle mind.”
“Not in this, sir.” Hethor found his words rushing out of him despite his resolve to be careful, not to mention his rekindling dislike of Master Bodean’s sons. “This is a problem of . . . of the divine.”
“The divine?” Pryce grew scornful. “Hah. Enough that you seem to be incompetent to work at my father’s affairs, now you are also getting above yourself. What would a mere apprentice know of divinity? Have you even been to services of late, boy?”
“Not as often as I should, no sir.” Hethor stared at his morning-damp boots. They had probably first been Pryce’s, he realized, trying not to think about the trouble he was digging into even now. But where else could he go for the sort of advice he needed?
Pryce sighed, just as mannered and exaggerated as his voice. “Our Savior gave his life on Pilate’s gear-and-wheel for this? A clockmaker’s apprentice who cannot maintain the simplest of Christian obligations, then cheats on his duties to go wandering through the city. I should write you up, boy, but it would break my father’s foolish old heart. Now what is it that you want?”
Hethor almost held back, thinking to excuse himself. It was clear that Pryce would not take him seriously. But he had come this far. He didn’t think he could back out of the interview now—better to try for the truth and hope that Pryce understood, than slip into the disgrace toward which his master’s son would so cheerfully shove him. Hethor laid the silver feather on the table. Blood still darkened its sharp edges. “This is a surety, Mister Bodean, of a . . . message I have received. Concerning the Key Perilous.”
Pryce reached out, touched the feather with a finger. “And what, precisely, do you think the Key Perilous is, young apprentice Hethor?” His voice was deliberate, slow.
Hethor noticed Pryce was no longer insulting him with every word. “I’m sure I don’t know, sir,” he said quietly, praying silently to Gabriel and God that coming here had not been a mistake. Would the scales now fall from Pryce’s eyes? Maybe the seriousness of Hethor’s question was dawning on Master Bodean’s eldest.
Picking the feather up, Pryce stared at Hethor. The green gaze seemed to deepen as some balance of impatience and consideration struggled within. Finally, like they were being forced out, the words slowly came.
“It’s a legend, boy. Silly, magical nonsense from the Southern Earth, like the Philosopher’s Stone or the Sangreal. People look at God’s Creation, His tracks and gears high in the sky, and they believe that there must be a role for themselves in influencing the progress of the stars and planets. People who believe in things like the Key Perilous, in ancient secrets and lost knowledge, those people can be dangerously unbalanced. Whoever put the notion of the Key Perilous in your head is no friend of yours, Hethor. No friend at all.”
“He gave me that,” Hethor said. Pryce was trying to talk Hethor out of his own epiphany. “An angel came to me in darkness, told me to seek the Key Perilous, and gave me that feather as proof of his words. Have you ever seen its like?”
“Hethor, any jeweler’s apprentice could cast this from a simple mold. I’ve no doubt you yourself could, if my father kept such tools about his workshop.” Pryce sighed. “Angels no more touch the lives of ordinary boys than do kings and princes. Less so, for kings and princes walk the Northern Earth, while angels are just metaphors for God’s divine agency within His Creation.”
“The angel was real,” Hethor insisted, still trying to rally Pryce to his cause. He was losing, though; he knew it. And Pryce held the feather. “Despite what you say. No metaphor at all. Gabriel was as real as anything I’ve ever seen.” More real, in a way.
Edging past the end of the table where Hethor stood, Pryce walked to the door of the receiving room. “Go on about your business, Hethor. I’ll have Porter Andrew write you a note that you were here at my behest. It may spare you some trouble.”
“My feather . . .”
“I’ll return it to my father.” Pryce shook his head. “I don’t suppose you’ve actually stolen it from him, as you wouldn’t have the backbone to show it to me if you did, but an apprentice has no business with such a thing in his possession.”
The door clicked shut.
Despite his sixteen years, tears of anger and frustration stung Hethor’s eyes. There was nothing more to do or say. As an apprentice, he was bound to his master almost as tightly as any slave. Unlike a slave, when Master Bodean chose to elevate Hethor to journeyman, he would have considerably more freedom, perhaps be on his way to true independence. But for now, he was as powerless as any woman or child.
And he’d just been turned out like an errant brat. Without even Gabriel’s tiniest feather to show for his visitation.
Hethor turned his right hand to look at the cut the feather had made the night before. Where he expected a thin scab, or perhaps an angry red line, there was only the faint key-shaped scar.
“By the gears of Heaven,” he muttered, “what does this mean?”
Porter Andrew handed Hethor a sealed note on his way out. Hethor scuffed back down the steps toward Elm Street, wondering what he was to say to Headmaster Brownlee, when he saw a signpost pointing toward the Divinity School library.
Libraries had books, with illustrated plates. Surely in all of history someone had captured an image of Gabriel.
He could find some proof of his story. Proof for himself, at the least. At any rate, it was another path toward an answer.
“My master has sent me to find details of paintings of Gabriel, the Angel of the Annunciation,” Hethor said to the library porter. He waved the note from Porter Andrew, backside out in case the porter recognized the handwriting. He knew he appeared of no consequence—a narrow-chested, sandy-haired boy of medium height, no different from half the young men in New Haven. Only the subterfuge of the note protected him.
“Who did you say your master was?” The library porter was a young man with wide-spaced eyes and a face that tended toward vagueness.
“Master Bodean the horologist.”
The porter’s expression narrowed, so Hethor hastily amended himself. “Clockmaker. My master is a clockmaker.”
“Horo . . . horo . . . what’s a clockmaker need to look at pictures for?”
Good question. The library porter was not as vague as he seemed. “Ah, well, we have a painted clockface we are repairing. There has been some damage to the brushwork. Master wants a reference to give to the artist who will be doing the restoration.”
The porter thought that over for a moment. “Very well, go in and speak to Librarian Childress. You will find her at a black desk through the second set of arches.”
Her? “Thank you, sir.”
“I’m not a sir,” grumbled the porter with injured pride. “I work for my keep.”
Hethor grinned, hopped his way through a little bow, and scuttled inside.
Copyright © 2007 by Joseph E. Lake Jr. All rights reserved,
What People are Saying About This
“A dark, wild mix of machine and magic—an impressive debut novel from short story maestro Jay Lake.”Greg Bear on Mainspring
"In Mainspring, Lake has created a grandiose, thoroughly engaging blasphemy.
This book blends the best of nostalgic adventure fiction with a genuinely fresh voice and ideas. An instant steampunk classic." Cory Doctorow, author of Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town
"From the sweeping mechanisms of his clockwork world, down to the subtle movements of his characters, all drawn with a clockmaker's eye, Lake gives us a story both grand and intimate, smart and savvy... and a whole lot of fun to boot." Hal Duncan, author of Vellum on Mainspring
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I spent probably a day figuring out what the book made me think of.Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines. Maybe I'm the only person who thinks this, it wouldn't surprise me, but the style of writing sound similar in my head. The Setting -- is a vivid version of Earth that is wound upon gears and cogs and springs. God crafted the earth to be a thing of machinery covered over by earth and living creatures. Along the equator stretches an almost insurpasable Wall. To the north is the civilized world; a place not too unfamiliar to you or I - though in the time of Queen Victoria things are changed. There are automatons, things are mechanized, and the tolling of the earth's passage is sounded by the nightly orbit of the earth on her spindle as she travels on - literally - a track through the stary sky. To the south of the Wall is a wondrous world of other creations; things from our imaginations made into reality that follow natural selection and God's order - but do not always acknowledge the Creator's dominance. The Characters -- felt a little one dimensional and flat to me. The main character, Hethor, I am sympathetic towards. He's a young man who has an angelic visitation and is shoved down a path he's not ready for. The antagonists seem hard to believe. There is one Big Baddie, who just lacks menace. I know Hethor is set on a path to do something and that is the story, but his enemies are just too convenient and too easily dispelled for my tastes. The love interest, an ape woman named Arellya, was cute and I liked her. I think the only reason I liked her was because she didn't worry too much, took charge when she needed to, and had her own type of independent thought. The Plot -- was to wind the Mainspring. That's it. Yes, Hethor is pushed down a path to do things, but events happen to him. The story feels as if it doesn't matter what Hethor would have willingly done, the story would have happened to him regardless, thus eliminating the characters free will and making the story inevitable. The religion in the book is a steampunk Christendom, and heavily influences the way the characters act. The romance arc didn't read well to me because I'm not sure if I ever got over the fact of Arellya's people being mostly ape like. I wonder if a sixteen year old boy would really have acted the way Hethor did in these situations. At times pieces of the plot just magically fell into place. Magic! Hethor can do Magic! The tablet! It's like a bad boomerang that Hethor cannot get rid of. I know my review is scathing. I know I'm probably nitpicking over things that most people will just read and accept as how the world and story unfold. It is a good book, very well written. The world fascinates me, but the characters lost me and I rely heavily on liking and believing the characters in a story to buy into the plot. I probably will not read the subsequent books.
Lake's clockwork universe is an interesting and original concept, and there are many arresting images in this story. However, I felt it was sadly lacking in plot coherence and character development.
This was definitely an interesting read, but not as interesting as I had expected. The climatic scene was not as thrilling or profound as the rest of the book lead me to believe it would be. A peculiarity that I felt distracted, and detracted, from the story was the man-monkey relationship. But to each his own...
A typical episodic hero's-journey, coming-of-age, save-the-world story, with a disappointing ending. Scalzi's blurb notwithstanding, the plot does not proceed with clockwork precision, but veers off into deux ex machina moosh after 300 pages of tease. Feh. And steampunk? I don't think so.
What started out as an interesting world with a mechanistic universe in evidence quickly caroomed into the tale of a young man who has given himself whole-heartedly into a quest he never really understands. Dragged along by events usually precipitated with honest ignorance, Hethor ends up on a grand tour of the earth, encountering pleasures and horrors in equal degree. Things fly by so quickly and roll towards and ending that is both predictable and maudlin, and wrung through with not a little religious fervor. Points for a great setting and taken away for not having enough time to appreciate it. Oh, and it was nice to see a powerful librarian providing the entree to the secret society that moves Hethor along the way, even if she comes off as a little stereotypical. (I'm a librarian, it's nice to be remembered).
Mainspring is a hard book to categorize. It's like a theological steampunk/clockpunk adventure amalgamation. In this world, the Earth is actually a large clockwork that travels a cog orbit, the traveling gear spanning the Equatorial Wall that separates the planet into Northern and Southern Earth, with the moon following it's own cog orbit around the Earth. As the story opens, young apprentice Hethor is visited by the Archangel Gabriel and told that he must find the Key Perilous to wind the Mainspring of the world, as it is beginning to run down and slip and if he doesn't accomplish this holy task, the world will end. What follows is an adventure worthy of Robert Louis Stevenson with underlying tones of religion and theology. The basis of the religion of Northern Earth is a Clockwork Christianity (complete with a Brass Christ), but as Hethor journeys farther and farther in his mission and meets more people, he begins to question what he has been taught in his religious upbringing and instead begins to follow his own heart and path, even if these thoughts would normally be seen as heresy where he comes from. There is actually some deep theological thought processes going on in this book, which just added another layer of thought-provoking goodness to the story.I was pleasantly surprised by the entire story with Mainspring. I wasn't actually sure what to expect (I thought I was actually just getting into a steampunk adventure), but Jay Lake weaves so much into this story concerning religion and what it can actually mean to each person when given the chance to view it away from their upbringing, it actually leaves quite a bit to think about. Don't get me wrong, though. There is plenty of adventure to big had; air ships, African jungles, polar expeditions, winged savages, clockwork statues, magicians. It seems Mainspring may actually have a little bit for everybody!Recommended!
I¿ve steered clear of Steampunk up until this point, not out of any particular prejudice, but more because it has its roots in the era of industrial revolution and that¿s not, generally, a period that I¿ve ever been drawn to. So when Jay Lake¿s `Mainspring¿ fell into my lap (a reward for being his 500th follower on Twitter), I wasn¿t sure what I¿d make of it.I certainly wasn¿t expecting it to be such an intriguing, compelling story.The main character is as engaging as he is innocent, and the world he explores is a fascinating and well-envisioned parallel of the familiar Victorian-industrial era, coherent and by turns dazzling and terrifying in its differences.The attitudes and social mores, the obsessions with order and outward propriety are both familiar and therefore credible links from our own recognised history into this world, and serve to set up the conflicts in which the main character, Hethor (the clockmaker¿s apprentice), struggles to unravel the mystery set for him by the angel, and to work out which of the powerful figures he encounters along the way he can trust. Hethor¿s quest is simple enough: to find the Key Perilous and wind the Mainspring of the Earth, but the lack of information available to a boy with no social standing and little education AND the active opposition of theological factions, imperial ambitions and the physical barrier of the `Wall¿ ¿ an equatorial division on which the mechanism of the Earth turns, where heaven and earth meet ¿ all deepen the conflicts and confusion Hethor must overcome if he is to realise his purpose. The storytelling is subtle, apparently random events driving the plot towards its climax, an unexpected realisation that flows in a satisfying way from the individual Hethor has become over the course of his various trials.Hethor is an intriguing character. In his naivete and innocence, his lack of awareness and education, there are strong echoes of de Troyes¿ Percival (indeed, there is a minor character called de Troyes ¿ coincidence? I wonder¿). The overtones of both the chivalrous quest for the Holy Grail and darker, more Wagnerian interpretation of the story (Parsifal) in the construction of Hethor¿s character work well with the religious nature of the task he has undertaken. His status as the `pure fool¿, unknowing and unformed, does, of course, mean that we learn about this world alongside him, and as his learning and development evolves out of his experiences, so too does our understanding and interpretation of the societies, situations and characters that push the story along. His evolution into an almost Christ-like figure ¿ a man with wordly knowledge and understanding and yet still set apart by a simplicity of thought and behaviour ¿ with magical/mystical powers of connection to the mechanisms that drive the Earth and all within/upon it develops naturally out of the callow boy we meet at the beginning ¿ the first clues to this potential sown early on, and refined through the trials and treachery that envelop him right up to that moment of final realisation. In places, his naivete is frustrating ¿ in the early stages of the story, he places his trust too easily and walks into traps with a wide-eyed stupidity, which undermines, to a degree, the later demonstrations of intelligence. Of course, a more charitable interpretation is that those early betrayals forge the determined and intelligent man of the latter stages, but the initial perception persists. His progression from simple (manipulated?) boy to a man confident in his own understanding and abilities comes with the transition from his rational, ordered existence in the Navy in the Northern hemisphere over the equatorial wall to the chaotic, factional, fractured societies of the Southern hemisphere, a powerful dividing line in so many ways in this story, not least of which is the evolution of Hethor¿s magic. The form his powers take is absolutely consistent with the world with which we are presented. His magica
Treated as an adventure story this is a good book and I liked the steampunk elements. The curious thing about it was that if you excluded the occasional bouts of swearing and inter-species sex it reads like a children's adventure story! I have to confess I didn't like the ending and there were a couple of plot inconsistencies that annoyed me. Also I couldn't fathom whether this was supposed to be an explicit Christian allegory (well it obviously is on one level) but to what end?In summary a good read with some minor irritations. A distant cousin of " His Dark Materials" but certainly not in the same league.
I'd read quite a few Jay Lake short stories lately and I really enjoyed them, so I was looking forward to this book. And I have to admit, I was disappointed. The story was very much "now this happens, now this happens, now this happens", and it wasn't as complex as I generally prefer. The main character... well, he starts out as a nice kid, and we are supposed to be watching him come of age, but it never felt super-convincing. I don't know if it was an instance of needing to "show don't tell", or if the character just didn't seem to actually go through the growth, but I just wasn't invested. And I get easily invested! So there's that.Where this book does excel, however, is the interesting worldbuilding! The general conceit is that the universe is made of clockwork, and that the world runs on gears and actually meshes with the sky. It's fun, and interesting, and the incidental details like "Brass Christ" etc. are the best part of the book.
Inventive story that's a great example of Steampunk. Loved the worldbuilding and imaginative way Lake describes a world runs on a huge brass gear. Glad that the main character is a teen boy since the book was published for adults but this gives it older teen appeal as well.
This fantasy has the bizarre and interesting premise of a literal clockwork universe. The Earth¿s mainspring is winding down and young apprentice clockmaker Hethor Jacques is charged with finding the Key Perilous and winding it up again by a Brass Angel. The equator of the Earth is a giant gear that meshes with another for Earth¿s journey around the Lamp of the Sun. Set in an alternate 19th-century Earth where Her Imperial Majesty Queen Victoria rules over England and Her American Possessions, the story is set up in an interesting fashion with the promise of armed zeppelins to boot. But then the sluggish pacing sets in and before you¿re halfway through you¿re half convinced the protagonist is a dull-witted simp who often just gets lucky to get out of any particular scrape he¿s gets into. It often seems that deus ex machine is at work several times within the story. Until finally, the story completely sputters out and leaves the reader wholly unsatisfied. There wasn¿t even a compelling villain to hate. And also, several questions go unanswered. This was a waste of time.
At what price is your faith worth placing aside?This is an interesting piece of world building and thought provoking development at a personal worth level. The period and airships aside, we are immersed into a world on the verge of ending in an 'untimely' wind down. The journey is not one so much to a destination but is a searching of one's soul to ascertain a value placed upon creation itself and God's role for that creation.I liked this title and would recommend it. Not for the "steam punk" aspects which are merely window dressing. I would not make this a part of any 'cannon'. It is simply a pretty good page turner on its own level.
Hethor is an aprentice clockmaker who lives in a literal clockwork universe. One night the brass angel Gabriel comes to him and charges him with the task of finding the Key Perilous so that he can wind the mainspring of the world so that the Earth will continue turning. There were some things that threw me when I first picked up the book. First, I hated "Hethor" as a name choice. It made me cringe every time I read it, tossing me out of story. Second, while I'm all for starting in the middle, this book launched so quickly into the action of the story that I didn't have a chance to know anything about Hethor, so I just didn't care about him. But these issues were eventually overcome. I started to ignore the oddness of the name, and I learned to care about the character through how he faced the challenges presented to him. The book also grew on me further as he journeyed into an ever-weirder world. Some of the oddities might be jarring, but I found them delightful, and I grew to thoroughly enjoy this strange and heretical book.
Mainspring is steampunk with brimstone, injustice and oppression. It is Victorian in a rather grim sense, but even so it has its moments of beauty and majesty. Lake¿s world building is excellent - our vision of his clockwork universe was easily the best feature of this book. On the downside, the actual plot was not so original, and I did not enjoy the pervasive mood of gloom.
I got really excited when I saw Mainspring on the list of new items at the public library. I'm a fan of steampunk/clockpunk, and was really intrigued with the idea of a literal clockworks universe. In Mainspring, the clockworks is running down, and a young apprentice clockmaker is tasked to wind it back up. But it's not an easy task since he has to cross the whole world to get to the Earth's mainspring. Jay Lake has conceived of a marvelous world, but things are a little lacking on the "punk" side of things. Instead, there's wonder in the natural world and faith in the Creator so readily demonstrated by the clockworks that everyone can see. Lake's plotting gets off to a bit of a bumpy start, but once the apprentice, Hathor, gets on board an airship, things smooth out well and the story becomes captivating. The prose was not consistently the lyrical prose of China Mieville, but there were positively brilliant moments. All in all, I had trouble putting it down and was happy that I had a rainy Saturday morning to devote to Mainspring.
I found this so-so. The book has a great premise and, as the characters are introduced, they are quite interesting.However, by about the mid-point of the story, we have been reduced to a long travel story where totally unexplained attacks occur, are beaten off, and then immediately forgotten as far as the plot is concerned.Ten pages from the end of the book, I was sure that a sequel was in the offing because there was no way such a grand plan could be wrapped up so quickly. I was wrong. There's a quick, unsatisfying resolution to the main character's problem, followed by a trite ending.I'd give Lake 4 stars for originality and conception, 1½ to 2 stars for execution. The result is a book that passed the afternoon for me, but which I wouldn't recommend.
I know Jay Lake. I have given up on a Jay Lake novel. I have critiqued a short story by Jay Lake that amounted to "what the hell is going on here?"That being said, I enjoyed Mainspring. I enjoyed reading a novel that takes God seriously, but not so seriously that science is "an evil satanic thing designed to lure people away from faith." The story is a standard quest/hero's journey: Save the world. Leave everything behind and save the world. The world is quite nonstandard, something only Aristotle could have imagined, but not like this. The world is a real clock work world, and to save the world,Hethor, an apprentice horologist, must wind the mainspring.The novel then takes the reader on a tour from New England to Antarctica, which means Hethor must get past the Wall, a massive structure that juts from the equator several miles (if the exact number is in the book I missed it) above the surface of the planet. Along the way he meets varied strange peoples, has more adventures than anyone probably wants, and gets abused in vastly creative ways. Everything he thought was serious before his quest began is ripped away from him. Yeah, that's what quests do to a character.The villain seems to be at first one of the minor obstacles to Hethor's journey, and returns later to assert his world view dominance. But looking at what William of Ghent says, he seems to be just as religious asHethor, so the struggle of worldviews isn't so much a theism/atheism but a theism/Scientology debate.The quest usually has a sad ending: in order to save the world Hethor must give it up. But Hethor doesn't lose it all. As cruel as Jay is to Hethor, he seems happier in the end than he started.I am looking forward to Escapement, the current working title for the next book in this world, but by saving the world in the first book, I'm not sure how he will top that in book two.
Yass, Lark! Yass!!
Awesome!!! I like it!!!
Great read, wonderful steampunk (gearpunk?).
"The Key Perilous is lost," the angel Gabriel tells young Hethor Jacques and charges him with its recovery. Hethor knows that there is a grinding in the great gears that drive the earth, a hesitation in the very clockwork of the world, so he believes Gabriel when the angel tells him he is the only one who can rewind the mainspring of the world. The moment that Hethor tells anyone about his visitation, his adventure truly begins. Turned out from his apprenticeship and home Hethor makes his way to Boston Commons to speak to the Viceroy and plead his case. The response is not what he expected and he finds himself imprisoned and the impressed into the Royal Navy about the airship Basset. From there the miles begin to pass under him leading him onwards. Jay Lake has taken the classic quest and given it a new veneer of adventure. His world and universe while built around the order of clockwork and gearing retains both the unexpected and rough and tumble action. His characters are sufficiently fleshed out to remain individuals and they each make their way through the world striving and struggling to survive. For the world they know is ending unless one young man can do the impossible. First for the record, this is an excellent example of steampunk. For those interested investigating the growing genre this can be a good starting point. It is also a classic adventure story where the path that the hero takes is definitely decided by fate. Hethor's adventures take him through amazing lands with strange inhabitants. But that's what his adventures do- Hethor himself does very little. While he is a good "everyman" character, he does little but let things happen to him. Sadly the other characters in the book are mostly more interesting than he is.
I loved the world: very original. I didn't care for the plot or the characters.
What an interesting idea rendered almost completely unreadable. I dropped the book midway (something I rarely do). Thank goodness it was a library copy. Had I a paid money for this boring slug of a book, I would want a refund.