Clockwork Boys


T. Kingfisher


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

February 11, 2023

have enjoyed enough of Kingfisher's novels that I trust her to deliver an entertaining read every time. Clockwork Boys is one of her earlier works, written way back in 2017. Clockwork Boys is only the first half of a story, it is isn't the first book of series, it is literally just half of a tale. I don't know why it was split into two novels, Clockwork Boys runs just 224 pages in the hardback edition, and (according to page count listed on Amazon website), book 2 of the duology, The Wonder Engine, is 318 pages - couldn't they have been sold as a single 542 page book? Who knows how publishing houses make their decisions. I have already ordered The Wonder Engine from the library catalog.

The Clockwork Boys features Slate, a forger/thief who got caught for some of her earlier, clumsier accounting thefts - she was given the ultimate of execution or to lead a suicidal mission for her kingdom (I don't recall if Slate's kingdom was actually given a name by Kingfisher), which is currently under attack by Anuket City. Unfortunately, Anuket City has created monstrous magical warriors that look like centaurs but are built with gears and steam engines and some mysterious sorcery (this explains the title of the duology: Clocktaur Wars). The defending armies don't stand a chance against these automatons (indeed, I wondered why Slate's kingdom hadn't already been overrun by these invincible machines) - Slate has been assigned the role of leading a team into Anuket, discover the secret to the clocktaur construction, and hopefully learn how to destroy them.

Slate already has one member of her team - a jealous ex-lover named Brenner who is an exceptionally lethal assassin. Brenner does his job well because he has no conscience. It almost seems that Brenner enjoys murdering people.

Slate marches into the dungeons of the Duchess with a royal order that allows her to select whatever thugs / hired-muscle / killers she will need as part of her team. Slate has an unusual sense, she smells the scent of rosemary when something magical is near, though she cannot tell if the rosemary smell is a warning or a guide. In the dungeon, her nose leads her to select a disgraced Paladin named Caliban. Caliban once was a demon fighter for his god, but unfortunately, in one confrontation Caliban himself was possessed by a demon and his body unwillingly slew a bevy of nuns. An exorcism was performed - the demon was killed (though its dead spirit still resides in Caliban), but now the murderous Caliban is considered to be too dangerous to let loose. But guided by the scent of rosemary, Slate selects Caliban for the suicide mission, and the Captain of the guard reluctantly releases him into Slate's command.

The last member of team is Learned Edmund - his named is a bit of a joke, since Edmund is just a callow youth of nineteen years, untried and naive. Edmund has plenty of book smarts, but the sneaky mission to Anuket City is a whole different ballgame than researching in a safe library.

Kingfisher takes her time assembling the team; establishing the dynamic between the characters. The tension between between the paladin Caliban and master-forger Slate seemed quite similar to the interaction between the paladin Stephen and the perfume-maker Grace in Paladin's Grace - Kingfisher must have a fondness for wounded paladins.

Kingfisher always seems to concoct some original twists regarding magic into her stories - in this case, it is Slate's ability to sense magic when she smells the scent of rosemary. Unfortunately, Slate is allergic to magic, she is always suffering from a runny nose during the magic encounters. Each of the team members has a tattoo inked into their arm - if the tattoo senses that they intend to abandon their suicidal quest, the tattoo will begin gnawing harder and harder at their arm, possibly even severing the limb off entirely if the team members try to make a break for the hills.

Once the team moves out, the action picks up. There is danger and magical landscapes (I wish Kingfisher novels would include a map!) It is all interesting story-telling, I am looking forward to The Wonder Engine.