When I committed to getting my new reviews up on time and working on a new series of articles for the ADHD and Writing series, I didn’t expect a nasty bout of food poisoning to deliver me into pneumonia (dunno if they were related, but it sucked either way) and to be unable to even get out of bed for over 2 weeks. So yeah. That sucked.
I’m back and functional again, so here’s the (long overdue) review of Arthur Slade’s Mission Clockwork, a steampunky alternate history thriller set in London at the dawn of the Industrial age.
The story opens with a prologue-type first chapter, where the brilliant Dr. Hyde is propositioned by an attractive young woman with a claw for a hand about working on a secret new project. It’s clear he’s setting up the antagonist here, and the resulting scene involving feeding his “prized” hound a terrible concoction and watching it tear itself apart is suitably creepy.
In the next chapter we’re introduced to the first of our two protagonists, a deformed young man with shape-shifting powers named Modo. Modo has been adopted and trained for most of his life by the enigmatic Mr. Socrates, his wet nurse Mrs. Finchley, and his Indian guard, Tharpa. He goes through various combat exercises and basic education, and then Mr. Socrates tells him he has a special mission. He hops in the carriage and Mr. Socrates dumps him on the street, telling him it’s now his job to survive there.
He sets up shop as a private detective and is contacted by a young woman who tells him she’s looking for her brother, who is a member of the Young Scientists society in London. He follows the man and nearly dies in the hands of the scientists, only to discover the woman was not who she appeared to be.
This young woman’s name is Octavia, and she’s our second protagonist. Also a lower-ranked member of Mr. Socrates’ society of spies, she was sent by him to test Modo and see what sort of information he’d be able to bring back. The two of them end up having to work together to solve the mystery of disappearing children and murderous aristocrats causing havoc in London.
I can’t talk too much more about the plot with spoilers, as it’s a bit of an unfolding mystery throughout, but I will say I found Slade’s writing style engaging and interesting, though there was quite a bit more passive language than need be in some of the early chapters. The characters were interesting, and I like the steampunky twisted fairy tale/alt history angle the story takes on as it progresses.
The pseudo-romantic subplot between the two protagonists was a bit disappointing, especially given the deception on Modo’s part throughout the book. I was really hoping he wouldn’t go there, and it made me sad when he did. That said, the action scenes were memorable (think Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame blended with old school sci-fi like Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) and interesting, and I never had a hard time picturing what was happening or where the characters were in space.
The climax was fun and action-packed, with a character death tease and sacrifice arc that made me smile. The “science” behind it was a little thin, and I wonder how much Slade thought through the rules of his steampunk science before he wrote the book. Am I curious enough to pick up the second one? Maybe. It was a short, fun read and I’m glad I read it. But I’m not sure if it gets me into the all-out binge reading mindset that some of the previous books I’ve reviewed have.
4.0/5, worth picking up if you want a light read, but nothing really groundbreaking or original here.