(Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review purposes.)
I really wanted to like this book. Like, a lot. And there's a lot of good things in this book, so I thought for sure by the time I got halfway through that I would end up liking it.
I mean, it has great characters in the form of Lord Micalus Raventower, a reclusive yet kind aristocrat who does his best to help the more unfortunate members of the city as well as create the most amazing clockwork creatures and devices, and his bodyguard, Merriweather, a woman devoted to her assignment and her career who ends up helping Raventower in many, sometimes off-beat, ways.
Together, they try to solve the mystery of who might want Raventower dead, and why. With enemy ships in the harbor, a livid sister who feels she should be in charge of Raventower's estate, and a fellow aristocrat with a judge, there seem to be quite a few. Throw in a high-probability of romance, a few fantastic twists in the plot regarding Raventower's mysterious ability with clockwork and the nature of the devices themselves, and it sounds like something a fan of steampunk would love. (Further disclosure: I've kept meaning to read some steampunk...this is the first novel I've read in that genre. Just so you know.)
However, here are the things that didn't work for me.
First, there's a lot of speculation, which can be very entertaining. It can. But it felt sometime as if the speculation kept going around in circles with no real progression within the scene.
In line with that, the action is very similar to life: gas and break. There are long scenes where nothing seemed to be happening, and then suddenly I'm reading scenes where the action doesn't stop. Until it does. That got old after a while.
(Ironically, part of what got to me was just how much plot was stuffed into this novel. Nothing felt as if it naturally unfolded from one scene to the next with just enough breathing room to take in the changes. The setting changed several times and in the last half of the novel it felt, for whatever reason, like there was too much ground being covered physically and not enough time to breathe. Like the characters had to hurry to one location, where very little happened, and then they had to hurry back, with nothing of any real import happening during the journey. My experience could be wrong, but that's how I remember it.)
The romance I kept hoping for never really happened. I mean, there's some nice dialogue, but nothing that really made me go "Ooooh!" except for Raventower's occasional reactions to Merriweather. I'm not sure why that was the case. Mairelon the Magician and Magician's Ward had a very sweet romance that was also reserved in the way it was presented, and yet I was very involved in that romance.
The lack of emotions and emotional reactions, in fact, was one of the things that started to disengage me from the story. Maybe that ties into the gas/break nature of the plot. I don't know. I do know that by the time I got three-quarters of the way through, I was skimming. Not even the final revelations at the end interested me, though I have to admit I really enjoyed a scene with Raventower in the ocean, a scene that not only explained where sea metal came from but had Raventower trying to make it to safety in the middle of a battlefield in spite of his own personal obstacles. It was a very engaging scene and I loved it.
The ending, as a result, didn't interest me. The romance never materialized as I'd hoped. The revelations of the secrets, including finding out what Raventower's father had done, felt lackluster. Although I might pick up the second book when I get the chance, just to see if the romance develops into a real connection, I'm not enthusiastic about it.
Again, I really wanted to like this. I'm sorry.
(reviewed 20 days after purchase)