Saturday, March 26, 2016

Review: Clockwork Menagerie: Shadows of Asphodel by Karen Kincy

22741735Title ~ Clockwork Menagerie: Shadows of Asphodel

Author ~ Karen Kincy

Publisher ~ Curiosity Quills Press

Published ~ 1st September 2016

Genre ~ Historical/Fantasy M/M Romance





1914. Konstantin would love to hide in his laboratory and dissect the clockwork dragon captured from Russia, but the Archmages of Vienna have other plans. He finds himself shipped off to St. Petersburg as the scientific attaché to an ambassador. His orders? Look, but don't touch. Of course, he considers this an impossible request with so much enemy technomancy to explore.
To make matters worse, Konstantin has to work with the dashing zeppelin commander Himmel, a man who should also be untouchable. They can't act on the smoldering attraction between them without risking it all. Faced with an illegal relationship and a devious rival technomancer, Konstantin might not return from this mission in Russia without conquering the forbidden.
A companion novella to the Shadows of Asphodel series, from Konstantin's point of view.

Sally’s Review

When I was small I lived near a railway line and steam still ruled. The chuff, the hiss, the clank of couplings and the relentless pound of the pistons, the hot gush of steam, the eerie wail of the express, the cheeky whoop of the shunter, dammit those engines almost breathed! All that was in the background through my infancy and makes me very much inclined to pounce on newly published steam punk romances with a squeal of glee.

Um – this is diesel punk, I think. Or maybe clockwork punk? But the principle is the same. The story is set in a world that uses a slightly different technology to our own, coupled with forms of scarily effective magic, to build amazing machines most of which are designed for military use. And fairly soon because Russia and the Austro-Hungarian empire are sharpening their sabres and trying to prevent a war by exchanging diplomatic missions. Huge airships whir across the sky carrying ambassadors, diplomats, technological experts and military attaches – ie spies – to visit each others capitals and try to pick up as much intelligence as they can.

Konstantin is the technomage attached to one such mission led by a very uptight diplomat in an airship piloted by Himmel, a man that keeps Konstantin awake at night, in his imagination if not actually in person. Their desire for each other has to be a carefully cherished secret because while their world might be different from ours in many ways, early 20thC attitudes aren’t. Konstantin could lose his job and Himmel could lose his commission. Also at risk is the security of their country. Russia has developed new war machines including a beautiful but deadly clockwork dragon. Konstantin has been tasked with discovering who is making these dangerous war machines, how they are powered, because they go far beyond cogs and springs, and if possible how the maker can be stopped.

Trapped in close proximity to Himmel, under the eye of a devastatingly handsome Russian and with a horrible feeling he knows exactly how the clockwork maker is achieving such mastery, Konstantin finds the future of two countries resting in his hands and has to take increasingly desperate and reckless measures to keep a grip on it.

This is a fun story and since I’m one of those very participatory readers for whom the book plays out in the mind’s eye like a movie, I really appreciated the wonderful descriptions of lofty architecture, the intricacies of clockwork and the eerie silence of the steppes. But when it came down to it I didn’t really feel at home in the world. There were lots of places where I felt under-informed and a bit confused. Konstantin is confused as well, but that’s his character, I assumed. I never really felt as though I knew enough about him and Himmel eithr. Backstory about how they had all got into the situation at the beginning of the book would have been much appreciated. But all was explained when I checked out the book on Goodreads to get a proper look at the cover and realised that this is book three in a series, each book of which starts almost exactly where the previous one left off, so I really had joined the story in media res. Though actually I suppose this book is off to the side a bit from the main narrative because the rest of the series features a m/f romance. Reading the whole thing is probably a terrific experience, but I found this book on its own just a tad unsatisfying in the world-building department. There were also times when the plot hinged on amazing coincidences or sheer dumb luck that I found a bit hard to swallow and I can’t mention without spoilers.

The characters, though, were good fun. Konstantin was deliciously focussed on his mission, to the detriment of his good sense, and Himmel was everything a gallant airship pilot should be. I’m sure my mental image of him, which includes waxed moustaches, tight breeches and an awful lot of shiny brass buttons, doesn’t match the author’s but I did enjoy it.

A word of warning for the Romanticists. This book is as much adventure as romance. It reads more like a mainstream story than a m/m romance. I wonder if it’s continuing the tone of the previous m/f books where Konstantin and Himmel are secondary characters? But rest assured that there are plenty of tender moments.

I enjoyed it. It was fun.

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