Book Review – The Clockwork Detective by R.A. McCandless

Steampunk was never really my bag. It’s far too easy to fall into the trap of detailed explanations of how clockwork and steam power and mold the world. At some point in some Steampunk stories, the tech gets advanced enough that you find yourself reading about how tiny switches bring intelligence to artificial creations. When that happens, I often wonder why the hell the author didn’t just write a cyberpunk story and call it good. Maybe it’s the lusty allure of pocketwatches and good old-fashioned steam-powered cars. You know, all the stuff we see every day, only run by analog water vapor.

Those are the stories where it’s obvious the author was just trying to cash in on the steampunk genre rather than adding something unique to it.

I’m pleased to say The Clockwork Detective doesn’t fall into that trap. There are a few descriptions of a steam-powered world – Aubrey’s leg, the dirgibles that plow the skies like iron ships across an ocean of air – but mostly R.A. McCandless just lets the story be the story. As a result, it’s not the tedious read that some Steampunk falls into.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not knocking the entire genre. There are some great stories out there that use the Steampunk world as a character unto itself, but there are others that just shove a story into that world and describe every gear and steampipe mercilessly while leaving the reader wondering why it was so important that the antagonist drove a clockwork El Camino.

R.A. takes the genre in a different direction. Some stuff clicks and clacks, but mostly the story is about the story. He’s also done something I hadn’t seen before in a steampunk novel.

Urban fantasy, as a genre, tends to blend the mundane world of right now with the magical world you only find when you’re tripping balls behind a 7-11. There are normal El Caminos, there are 7-11s, but there are also magical things like ghosts, devils, and all manner of bugaboos either lurking in the shadows or running hot dog carts on Central Ave down by the university. Again, getting stuck in the details in urban fantasy is easy trap to fall into and the best at the genre manage to make it work.

What R.A. has pulled off with The Clockwork Detective is an effective blend of Steampunk and Urban Fantasy. I’d say Steamfantasypunk, but that’s a mouthful and no one would ever think it’s cool enough to become a thing, so let’s just say it’s a new direction in Steampunk and call it good.

And that’s exactly what this book is: It’s a great fusion of two disparate genres handled with the deft touch of a master who really believes in what he’s doing. That belief shines through in a text that draws you in and keeps you in its world even after you close the book. Well-written, engaging, and flat-out fun to read. This is a perfect summer book that doesn’t shirk its responsibility of taking the reader to new places and letting them wander around in a fleshed out world.

It’s like tripping balls behind the 7-11 without the fear of the dreaded brown acid.

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Aubrey Hartmann left the Imperial battlefields with a pocketful of medals, a fearsome reputation, and a clockwork leg. 

The Imperium diverts her trip home to investigate the murder of a young druwyd in a strange town. She is ordered to not only find the killer but prevent a full-scale war with the dreaded Fae. 

Meanwhile, the arrival of a sinister secret policeman threatens to dig up Aubrey’s own secrets – ones that could ruin her career. 

It soon becomes clear that Aubrey has powerful enemies with plans to stop her before she gets started. Determined to solve the mystery, Aubrey must survive centaurs, thugs and a monster of pure destruction.

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Book Review – Klockwerk Kabaret by Jack Wallen

Today’s book is the first true-to-form Steampunk novel I’ve read. It’s a pretty wide genre, and I’ve always been fascinated with it, but the furthest I’ve gotten into the genre was appreciating the aesthetic. As a result, I’m hardly an expert at Steampunk, but I do know a good read when I find one and I’m fairly versed in the SciFi and Cyberpunk that birthed Steampunk.

The story of Klockwerk Kabaret is set in a world of clockwork and steam-powered things. Yet, through this seeming low-tech, great things have emerged. Robots of varying degrees of capability exist and a hint of magic laps at the heels of the clocks. In the middle of all this is the titular Klockwerk Kabaret, a cabaret run by budding clockmaster Nathan Gage and consisting of mostly mechanical ladies, topped off by the amazing Olivia Nightingale.

At night, Nathan and Olivia don masks and set out to right wrongs in the mystical city of Mainspring. Yes. You read that right. Steampunk superheroism. That right there should be enough to get you to go buy this book (link at the bottom), but the rest of story is nothing short of fantastic. In addition to the clockwork and bits of magic, you’ve got dark chemistry and enough gadgets to keep 007 busy for a few missions, all lovingly detailed by Wallen’s prose.

Like SciFi and Cyberpunk before it, the world of Steampunk can take over a story if not handled correctly – think balancing a xenomorph egg on a spatula – and as soon as the story takes a back seat to the world it lives in, you no longer have much of a story. Wallen’s hand kept the world alive and breathing, but never let the technology and gears fully take over.

Klockwerk Kabaret reads a lot like some of the stories of classic heroes of pulp from back in the day. Imagine a Doc Savage or Shadow tossed into clockwork world. It’s got all the action and amazing gadgetry that’s to be expected from the golden age of action, but also has that tantalizing hint of magic. And Klockwerk Kabaret is set in a Steampunk world. Frankly, it’s a pretty incredible bit of genre-bending.

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How can you not love this cover?

“The Morticia and Gomez of steampunk have arrived!
Mainspring – a quaint town removed from time and era. Powered by steam and clockwork, Mainspring has enjoyed decades of peace and prosperity … until, from a far-away land known as The Keep of Keys, Hieronymus Ebauche unleashes Hell.
Born of a long-forgotten vendetta, Ebauche transports his clockwork demons through a trans-dimensional portal to exact his revenge. Mainspring’s only hope – Nathan Gage and Olivia Nightingale; the proprietors of the Klockwerk Kabaret, where desire is brought to life with flesh and clockwork. When the doors to the Kabaret close, Gage and Nightingale slip into the shadows as vigilante crime fighters. The fight leads them to The Keep of Keys where they discover a much darker truth.
As the clock winds down, so too does the hope of Mainspring.”

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