Hope and the Clever Man is the second volume in the Gryphon Clerks series or universe. The first volume, Realmgolds, I reviewed here. One of the main characters from Realmgolds, the Realmgold Victory, appears as a minor character in Hope, which like the other books in the Gryphon Clerks universe is an other-world fantasy with a steampunk feel (although it’s not true steampunk, as the technologies are mostly magical).
Hope is named for the main character, Hope at Merrybourne, a young student of the arcane. We learn of her troubled relations with her mother and her deep self-doubt that obscures her considerable talent, and that she is a very pretty woman who doesn’t know it. The story takes Hope through her school years and her conflicts with other students, which reflect both class conflict and the battle of the sexes, and puts Hope in a bind of her own making that limits her achievements in school. After graduating, she becomes part of the Realmgold’s project to nurture magical technology, and joins the Clever Man Works, where we meet Dignified Printer, the “clever man” and master of the Clever Man works, his gnome assistant Bucket, and other gnomes. We also learn of the enslavement of the gnomes to the dwarves, and this makes up a lot of the conflict and the story line as the tale continues.
The struggle of the gnomes to liberate themselves, along with Hope’s personal struggle to recover from her mistake during her school years, which has left her with an unpleasant curse, and the development of new technologies that feed into the gnome liberation struggle while resulting (as usual for new technologies) in unforeseen consequences, is the story that Hope and the Clever Man tells, but as is often the case with Mike’s work, that story is less important than the unfolding of the characters, particularly Hope herself.
The plotting in Hope and the Clever Man could definitely have been tighter and constructed so as to increase the flow of tension to a climax. On the other hand, the characters are deep, believable, admirable, and sympathetic, with enough leavening of flaws and shortcomings to make them human (or quasi-human in the case of the gnomes). The writing is also very good, as Mike’s style and abilities as a wordsmith continue to evolve and improve. The rather slack plotting prevents me from giving the book five stars, but it definitely deserves four.
Hope and the Clever Man is available for $4.99 from the Amazon Kindle Store.