Monthly Archives: December 2013

Book Review: The Clockwork Giant (Chroniker City) by Brooke Johnson

TCGmedJPGThis review is something of a departure for this blog, because The Clockwork Giant and its sequel, Le Theatre Mechanique, are not fantasy properly so called; they are young-adult steampunk, classic variety, set in Victorian England, with no magic, quasi-humans, deities or devils or superbeings, or fantasy elements generally involved. I’m doing this because I loved the first book, but there’s also a certain amount of crossover in the sense of wonder elicited by the splendid mechanical devices involved in the story.

I’m going to give The Clockwork Giant 5 stars, something I very rarely do. My rules on this remain what they have always been. I look at the plot/story, the characters, and the writing, and base the review on how many of these exceed the average and by how much. If none of them do, I don’t review the book. If one does, I’ll usually give it a 3-star; if two do, 4, and only if all three are superior (or two of them by a tremendous degree) will I give a book 5 stars. In The Clockwork Giant, Brooke Johnson has given us a wonderfully intense, gripping story, fascinating characters, and magnificent prose.

I will admit that I found the main character, Petra Wade, irritating at times in her indecisiveness and her tendency to distrust people who didn’t deserve that. But that is a believable part of her character arising from her background. The character is splendidly developed, believable, and mostly likeable, with the unlikeable parts serving to render her more real and true. The story is intense, with plenty of danger, bad breaks, sudden turns, and hopeless fixes. (Someday I would like to write a story this perfect in its timing and flow.) The one thing that could have been better about it was the ending, and yet that sets the stage for a sequel to continue the main story, which I hope that Ms. Johnson will write in a sequel one of these days.

The language is beautifully done, especially for a young adult book. I especially liked Petra’s rather unusual and unique expressions of her passion for Emmerich on a physical level. I mean, it’s not typical for a woman to be aroused by the smell of machine oil. Or at least that has not been my experience, but then, I’ve never met a woman like Petra, so doubtless my experience is inadequate to judge in this instance. The descriptions of working on clockwork mechanisms and the joy that this brought to Petra, as well as her boredom with non-mechanical technology such as steam power, was also well turned.

All in all, I can recommend The Clockwork Giant without reservation.

You can buy the book at Amazon Kindle Store for $2.99, and it’s also available in print for $9.99.

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The Order Master (Refuge Volume One)

The Order MasterThose of you who pay attention to the sidebar and notice details will have seen already that a new item is listed at the top of my published books. That’s the first book in the Refuge series, titled The Order Master. It’s available currently in e-book form at Amazon and Smashwords, will come out shortly on Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and several other outlets, and will be available in print in the next few months. The price is $2.99, and you can read a sample for free at either Amazon or Smashwords.

I want to talk in this post about the story and the themes of the story. The Order Master could be categorized as either contemporary fantasy or science fiction. I think of it as both. It includes fantasy elements: magic and full-memory reincarnation. It also includes science fiction elements: alien races and advanced technology.

Also, as I’ve been saying all along in my posts on this blog, serious fantasy always tends to have a spiritual theme. I’ve only mentioned this in passing a couple of times, but I feel it’s also true that serious science fiction tends to have a political theme. Science fiction plays what-if with advanced technology or possible events, and explores the implications for our culture and political institutions. Fantasy explores themes that are more timeless, classically avoiding political questions and focusing on spiritual ones: good versus evil, personal choice, tolerance and equality (there’s some crossover between the spiritual and the political, obviously) and so on.

The Order Master has both political and spiritual themes to it.

The backstory behind the entire Refuge series involves two alien races, the Andol and the Droon, who destroyed one another with weapons of mass destruction in an interstellar war centuries ago. Some members of both races employed advanced magical/spiritual techniques to reincarnate on a “refuge” world as members of that world’s dominant intelligent species, which, of course, means us. The Andol are an egalitarian, democratic, socialistic, generally good-sort people. On their home world, all the basic elements of happiness were universal rights: no Andol went hungry, was denied medical care or a place to live, or had to bow in service to the privileged and powerful in order to have a good life. Although they were not completely equal in power and wealth, it was close enough, and no one was seriously hurting from want, so that wealth ceased to be a measure of success for the Andol. Instead, they measured themselves by creative, scientific, or other achievements. On Earth, the Andol refugees aim to recreate their lost society by shaping human culture (and ultimately human genes) to create it.

The Droon are as different from the Andol as can be conceived. A small elite held all of the power in Droon society. This elite (or “true” Droon as they were called) were genetically engineered to be superior, while all the other Droon, and all member of their slave races, were gene-crafted to be fearful, docile and obedient. Most members of the Droon species were slaves and pain-toys for the master race. Like the Andol, the Droon seek to recreate their home society on Earth, as much as possible given the different species involved.

The refugees from both worlds are virtually immortal. When one of them dies, he or she is reincarnated in a new human body with all of the old life’s memories preserved. Death becomes an inconvenience. Only on the complete victory of one side will the other be shut out from reincarnating and finally die.

So there is the main political theme of Refuge: privilege versus equality. Over the course of the series, I expect to explore much of this, including the verbal and rhetorical tricks by which privilege is sometimes confused with liberty and equality with its opposite. The choices before us as we evolve towards an advanced civilization (even without meddling aliens) will be explored using the story of the Droon and the Andol as a canvas.

This theme is dealt with to a degree in The Order Master, but the primary theme of this book is spiritual and involves the conflict between religious orthodoxy and creative spirituality, and between religious authority and individual freedom.

The main (and title) character of The Order Master is Michael Cambridge, Order Master of the Scourge of God. The Scourge is a secret Christian society founded in the fourth century for the express purpose of finding and killing the Droon. The Scourge has always believed that the Droon are devils from Hell whose purpose is to destroy Christendom. The leadership of the order has passed from father to son, and Michael is the direct descendant of Osgood of Cambridge, the mystic who founded the order. He has been destined for the role from birth and never given any choice about it. If he were given that choice — he would want out.

The story begins as Cambridge breaks into the office of a Droon accountant named John Stevens and puts him at knife point. Under the terms of the Pact of War, an old agreement between the Scourge of God and the Droon, Mike learns that the Droon are aliens, not devils, and that they reincarnate whenever they are killed, making all of the murders of Droon by the Scourge no more than an annoyance. He also learns of the existence of the Andol. This sends him on a quest for the Droon’s enemies, whom he eventually finds in the person of Amanda Johnson, the pretty, intelligent, and charismatic leader of the Luminous Mountain Ashram in San Francisco. What follows for the rest of the book combines a growing romance between Mike and Amanda, pursuit of them by the Droon as they retreat from one hiding place to the next, and a boiling controversy within the Scourge of God over the revelations that Mike presents to them.

It’s in this last, which constitutes the main story line, that the spiritual themes of orthodoxy versus creativity and authority versus freedom are played out. Mike himself represents one pole of this conflict, and James Anderson, a Chapter Master from England, represents the other. The debates, political intrigue and maneuvering, and ultimately violent conflict unfold these themes as the story progresses, with the Droon and Andol striking their own off-key notes.

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