Karen Kincy, $2.99
Fantasy Romance, 2018
One of the main characters in Clockwork Menagerie is called Theodore Himmel. Given that Himmel can mean “in heaven” in German, and there are quite a number of “God, Himmel!” moments here, I am pretty sure the whole effect is intentional.
Indeed, when this story opens, we have an archmage or magical engineer type, Konstantin Falkenrath, studying the mechanical carcass of a clockwork dragon. Between Konstantin and Himmel, I can only wonder whether there is some kind of religious liturgy vibe going on here, and whether this is going to an interesting mix of spirituality and mechanics thing. I’m really looking forward to such a thing. Alas, this one turns out to be another rather generic magic and technology setting, with perhaps the most noteworthy thing here being that it is set in 1914, right during the start of World War 1 in this alternate Earth.
Airship captain – there are always airships here, because Steampunk 101 – Himmel wants to do it to Konstantin constantly, but Konstantin is basically clenching his thighs tightly together and going no, no, no. You see, he’s a virgin, so uwu, and sodomy is illegal so he doesn’t want to risk their careers by doing the butt bump thing. Alas, the two of them are charged to escort an ambassador on a spying mission to St Petersburg, where they would meet a female villain straight out of a Scooby-Doo cartoon. Some man-to-man action is inevitable, or else the author would be bombarded with furious requests for refunds by readers.
Here’s the thing. The setting is Steampunk 101, sure, but I am intrigued by the possibilities of a wartime steampunk romance. With the heroes’ names being what they are, I am led to believe that this story will have grace, poetry, irony… something. Perhaps there will be existentialism angst about how machines and homosexuals deserve love too like everyone else.
Unfortunately, I get a story where the romance is pretty much set, and it’s just a matter of time when the zip comes down. That isn’t very interesting. This is compounded by the fact that the romance-related angst takes up a big chunk of the story, and frankly, I prefer reading about the intrigue as that aspect of the story explores the setting and makes it come more alive. The intrigue becomes prominent in the second half of the story, but even then, the whole thing plays like a cliché cartoon show. You know, the hero stumbles upon evidence of the villain’s perfidy, the villain conveniently shows up to monologue in a mua-ha-ha way, and then the hero gets knocked out, et cetera. Come on, there’s a war about to erupt, and we’re doing a bad cover version of Jayne Ann Krentz’s greatest hits?
The author’s prose is clean, and unlike some, ahem, recent effort I read, she inserts fancy new concepts of her setting in ways that I can follow easily without making me scramble to look up online dictionaries and cringing at bizarre punctuation misuse. Really, the whole thing is readable. Only, the author chooses a big setting and theme for her story, only to focus on a smaller, more mundane scope, and I end up feeling that this one is a huge missed opportunity to be something grand. Disappointment is inevitable.