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Mainspring
Mainspring
Author: Jay Lake
Jay Lake’s first trade novel is an astounding work of creation. Lake has envisioned a clockwork solar system, where the planets move in a vast system of gears around the lamp of the Sun. It is a universe where the hand of the Creator is visible to anyone who simply looks up into the sky, and sees the track of the heavens, the wheels of th...  more »
ISBN-13: 9780765317087
ISBN-10: 0765317087
Publication Date: 6/12/2007
Pages: 320
Rating:
  • Currently 2.9/5 Stars.
 8

2.9 stars, based on 8 ratings
Publisher: Tor Books
Book Type: Hardcover
Other Versions: Paperback
Members Wishing: 0
Reviews: Member | Amazon | Write a Review

Top Member Book Reviews

reviewed Mainspring on + 260 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
I know a lot of my reviews are positive, and seldom dip below 3 stars. Mainly because its much more fun to write about books I like, rather than ones that irritate, bore or worst of all, waste my valuable free time. So, for a change of pace, I thought Id write about one I didnt care for very much: Mainspring by Jay Lake.
Mainspring is an interesting addition to modern fantasy, as well as the clockpunk and steampunk genres. And while interesting, its got flaws. The best I can give it is 2.5 stars.
Mainspring has one of the most interesting settings Ive seen outside Celestial Matters by Richard Garfinkle. How so? Well, in Mainspring the metaphor of the Clockmaker God is made manifest – Earth is part of a vast celestial orrery, with a vast gear as part of the world (the Equatorial Wall) that divides the world into Northern and Southern hemispheres.
Believe me, this impacts the world. Its a different, if familiar world. The British Empire spans the Northern Hemisphere with its conventional and aeronautic navies, with its only rival being China. Queen Victoria still rules even though it is the early 20th century, well past her death in our timeline. Christianity is different, with a Brass Christ that was broken on a gear by the Romans, 12 is a holy number and clocks play a role in worship.
As intriguing as all of this is, it is only background though. Mainspring is about Hethor Jacques, a 16 year old apprentice clockmaker in New Haven Connecticut, a colony of the Crown. There, he is warned by the angel Gabriel, that the world is winding down and that he must rewind it. Gabriel gives him a feather and then vanishes. While Hethor has some practical knowledge, and is good with his hands, hes honest, too good for this world and as thick as two short planks. He shows the feather to his master and is promptly accused of theft by his masters son and expelled. This expulsion is only the beginning of Hethors journey to the south, with side stops at a legendary dungeon of Boston, being pressed into the Royal Navy on an Airship on an expedition for the Equatorial Wall (something reputed to devour empires).
Mainspring has some of the most incredible world building Ive seen for a fantasy novel. That alone makes it memorable.
However, it has its flaws. My biggest lies with Hethor. This is someone who has a Destiny. But he grates on me, never seizing the initiative and being the luckiest individual ever. Or just chosen by the author to be the viewpoint to show off the mad, beautiful world he built.
And while I liked the worldbuilding, Im not sure Lake went far enough in his worldbuilding. Id have thought the world to be more different due to the changes, bent out of recognition should be more likely. As it is, its overly familiar. And I have to ask, where are the slaves that Chief of Ropes Al-Wazirs father were gathering with most of sub-Saharan Africa cut off from the world? In too many regards, it feels like a god did it is the explanation for most of the world
Then there is the Southern Hemisphere. When Hethor gets there, the book changes becoming a slog to read through. He falls in with a tribe of what I think are Australopithicenes who help him out of the goodness of their heart. Even escorting him well beyond their home ranges.
What makes it a slog is that the exploration and sensawunda that highlighted the first half, disappears. At which point Hethors flaws and Lakes shortcomings as an author come to the fore. Instead of showing off the world, were treated to a mess of religion and philosophy. Not always something I look for in my leisure reading.
All in all, I didnt care for this as much as I hoped and I guess thats why I feel as strongly as I do. 2½ stars.
Likes: God as a Clockmaker metaphor made manifest in the world; The Equatorial Wall; Tribes of marauding angels; Extinct hominids (austraolopithicus and gigantopithicus Im pretty sure of , maybe neanderthals as well) and animals populating the Southern Hemisphere; Airships.
Dislikes: The second half of the book, specifically the rather preachy bits; The personality of the tribe Hethor falls in with; Geopolitics of the setting – Id have hoped for more changes; Hethor, for not being that interesting and too passive (youd think hed never heard the phrase Put your trust in God, but keep your powder dry.
Suggested For: Clockpunk and steampunk fans.
reviewed Mainspring on + 260 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
I know a lot of my reviews are positive, and seldom dip below 3 stars. Mainly because its much more fun to write about books I like, rather than ones that irritate, bore or worst of all, waste my valuable free time. So, for a change of pace, I thought Id write about one I didnt care for very much: Mainspring by Jay Lake.
Mainspring is an interesting addition to modern fantasy, as well as the clockpunk and steampunk genres. And while interesting, its got flaws. The best I can give it is 2.5 stars.
Mainspring has one of the most interesting settings Ive seen outside Celestial Matters by Richard Garfinkle. How so? Well, in Mainspring the metaphor of the Clockmaker God is made manifest – Earth is part of a vast celestial orrery, with a vast gear as part of the world (the Equatorial Wall) that divides the world into Northern and Southern hemispheres.
Believe me, this impacts the world. Its a different, if familiar world. The British Empire spans the Northern Hemisphere with its conventional and aeronautic navies, with its only rival being China. Queen Victoria still rules even though it is the early 20th century, well past her death in our timeline. Christianity is different, with a Brass Christ that was broken on a gear by the Romans, 12 is a holy number and clocks play a role in worship.
As intriguing as all of this is, it is only background though. Mainspring is about Hethor Jacques, a 16 year old apprentice clockmaker in New Haven Connecticut, a colony of the Crown. There, he is warned by the angel Gabriel, that the world is winding down and that he must rewind it. Gabriel gives him a feather and then vanishes. While Hethor has some practical knowledge, and is good with his hands, hes honest, too good for this world and as thick as two short planks. He shows the feather to his master and is promptly accused of theft by his masters son and expelled. This expulsion is only the beginning of Hethors journey to the south, with side stops at a legendary dungeon of Boston, being pressed into the Royal Navy on an Airship on an expedition for the Equatorial Wall (something reputed to devour empires).
Mainspring has some of the most incredible world building Ive seen for a fantasy novel. That alone makes it memorable.
However, it has its flaws. My biggest lies with Hethor. This is someone who has a Destiny. But he grates on me, never seizing the initiative and being the luckiest individual ever. Or just chosen by the author to be the viewpoint to show off the mad, beautiful world he built.
And while I liked the worldbuilding, Im not sure Lake went far enough in his worldbuilding. Id have thought the world to be more different due to the changes, bent out of recognition should be more likely. As it is, its overly familiar. And I have to ask, where are the slaves that Chief of Ropes Al-Wazirs father were gathering with most of sub-Saharan Africa cut off from the world? In too many regards, it feels like a god did it is the explanation for most of the world
Then there is the Southern Hemisphere. When Hethor gets there, the book changes becoming a slog to read through. He falls in with a tribe of what I think are Australopithicenes who help him out of the goodness of their heart. Even escorting him well beyond their home ranges.
What makes it a slog is that the exploration and sensawunda that highlighted the first half, disappears. At which point Hethors flaws and Lakes shortcomings as an author come to the fore. Instead of showing off the world, were treated to a mess of religion and philosophy. Not always something I look for in my leisure reading.
All in all, I didnt care for this as much as I hoped and I guess thats why I feel as strongly as I do. 2½ stars.
Likes: God as a Clockmaker metaphor made manifest in the world; The Equatorial Wall; Tribes of marauding angels; Extinct hominids (austraolopithicus and gigantopithicus Im pretty sure of , maybe neanderthals as well) and animals populating the Southern Hemisphere; Airships.
Dislikes: The second half of the book, specifically the rather preachy bits; The personality of the tribe Hethor falls in with; Geopolitics of the setting – Id have hoped for more changes; Hethor, for not being that interesting and too passive (youd think hed never heard the phrase Put your trust in God, but keep your powder dry.
Suggested For: Clockpunk and steampunk fans.
reviewed Mainspring on + 49 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
I love world building novels, and especially the "steam-punk" genre. This book satisfies these passions. If I had to live in the "Victorian" era, I would rather live in this one than our own. This Universe is literally a clock, and the evidence of God's hand in the creation is physically before your eyes. Relax if your not of a spiritual nature. This is a coming of age adventure story, not a religious tome. Lake has created a totally believable world. My only criticism would be that I would liked to have the characters fleshed out a little more. The main character,Hethor, a Clockmaker's young apprentice is the only character I felt we really got to know, which is a good thing since the whole novel is from his point of view. The other characters, especially the villains, aren't very fleshed-out. I've read a review for his next book, "Escapemnet", and this is taken care of by having multiple points of view. And when you get right down to it, the world itself is the real star here.
reviewed Mainspring on + 185 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
So much to like and so much to dislike, all wrapped up in one slim package. The good stuff first, I think, because overall I did enjoy this book.

First off, there is thankfully nowhere near the same level of obnoxious unnecessary Capitalization in the text as there is in the jacket description. But the cover art is both eye-catching and accurate so the marketing's a wash overall. The cover art also captures the part of this book that I enjoyed the most: the sections starting about a third of the way in that are part of the long tradition of lost worlds fiction. I loved Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World and Edgar Rice Burroughs' Caspak Trilogy ages ago, and this book is a worthy entry in that genre. It depicts the same sort of bizarre wilderness, filled with unexpected dangers and delights. I raced through the sections traveling through and trying to survive that wildnerness and was varying disappointed and annoyed when other elements of the novel came to the fore.

The central world-building premise, that of the metaphor of God as clockmaker made literal, is absurdly cool. It's an obvious fit in the clockpunk genre, and Lake's reminders that this world is not our world were effective and rarely overplayed. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the protagonist could hear the heavens ticking along -- an ability that grows and changes over the course of the book, mirroring Hethor's character arc. But I wanted more done with this premise; with so much of the plot resting on turns and crises of faith, I wanted much (much!) more information on how Lake's Christianity is not our Christianity. Little changes like the Brass Christ and the altered Lord's Prayer are nice. . . but I wanted (and felt the story needed) to see how God's presence manifest and undeniable changed the history of the Western World, given how much of the moving force of our world's history rests of disputes over faith. I didn't buy that Hethor's world would be as similar to ours as it clearly was.

Even though the book is most rightly clockpunk, it is also steampunk -- it's set in the Victorian period, and there are airships in the Royal Navy. Unfortunately, I felt the entire steampunk setting was nothing more than window-dressing. There was never anything done with it. So, for example, we're told that America never broke away from England but that has no bearing on the plot and there's never any reason given for why the alternate historical elements of heavenly clockwork and working magic would have made America less likely to rebel. The Chinese Empire is the major threat to England rather than any of the other powers in Europe, but again, we're never shown why and it makes absolutely no difference to the plot who the enemy is. As far as I can tell, pretty much the only reason to give this novel a steampunk setting rather than the more natural clockpunk Renaissance setting is so that Lake can have all the adventures happen on an airship, and that's just not enough reason for me.

In fact, almost all of my reservations with the novel arise from its setting. The entire Southern Hemisphere is essentially erased, and even though that has happened for good world-building reasons it made me raise my eyebrows. If that erasure had had a measurable impact on the history of the Northern Hemisphere I would have applauded it as daring; but apparently the whole Age of Exploration (and Imperialism) was able to function exactly like ours. . . without Africa or half of the Americas to explore and conquer and mine for resources. Um, no. (One character even has a throwaway line dissing slave owners. . . who were the slaves?)

Compounding this issue is the fact that the second half of the book, the whole section I enjoyed for its Lost World air, harps (and harps, and harps) on the Noble Savage trope. Can we please retire that one now?

I had some issues with Lake's control over perspective as well -- the entire book was written from a tight third-person, except when Hethor was describing things, and then it switched to omniscient so that Lake could use references not available to his main character -- but overall this book will probably succeed or fail depending on the reader's enjoyment of lost worlds and tolerance for problematic world-building. For me it was about as much of a wash as the marketing.
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