Beth Cato, The Clockwork Dagger

This book passed an important test. I chose to read it out loud to my wife.

We read together pretty regularly. I don’t know how many other people do that — but for me, at least, it’s a way to enjoy a story physically, when I know it’s worth it. (Usually, i’ve read the book silently before we read the book together).

So this is a pretty fun book.

In the knowing what you’re getting into department: This is steampunk, ticking off all the usual boxes. Airships, clockwork golems, and other mechanical marvels. Victorian social mores (though the setting feels more like Germany just after the 1918 armistice than Victorian Engliand.) But it’s steampunk fantasy, not steampunk pure and simple. This is not our world. The protagonist, Octavia Leander, is a magical healer, and has a mystical relationship to divinity, in the form of the Lady and the Tree, protectors of nature and restorers of health and vitality, in a world determined to mechanize everything.

In the knowing where it’s going department: Because Octavia is incredibly powerful and gifted in her magic, she has become (unbeknownst to her) a target of interest both to her own government and its terrorist/guerrilla liberation army enemies. What should have been an uneventful airship ride to her new job becomes a sequence of dangers. Someone tries to stab her. Someone tries to push her off the airship. And that’s just for starters. They’re still warming up, and she hasn’t got a clue about why. Meanwhile, she’s starting to feel some really inappropriate feelings toward the steward, and she isn’t sure what to do about them.

Some reactions: The plot is very tightly constructed, and the mystery-like reveals as the true situation develops work very effectively. An alert reader of mysteries will be rewarded by the clues Beth Cato drops in advance. But they had better be very alert. She also does some incredible technology vs. mother nature moves that explore very interesting philosophical issues along the way. One of the most fun things about the plot is the sideplot involving a lost princess, hiding in plain site as the dowager widow, Mrs. Viola Stout. Viola is a hard character to get out of your mind.

A fun read. Worth the effort to get your hands on.

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