Review of ‘The Clockwork Boys’

This week, find out:

  • What The Clockwork Boys is about
  • Why horses are mostly for paladins
  • That suicide missions can be fun… as long as you’re only watching

This is a review of The Clockwork Boys: Clocktaur Wars 1 (2017) by T. Kingfisher.

The main players in this story

  • Slate, a master forger, condemned for treason
  • Sir Caliban, a disgraced paladin knight
  • Brenner, an assassin, also condemned to death
  • Learned Edmund, a young cleric scholar

And if this sounds exactly like your last D&D campaign, you’ve got the right gist.

The premise

The Clockwork Boys is a fast and funny romp through a strange landscape with four distinctly-drawn characters doing exactly what you expect of them, with hilarious consequences.

The story opens with Slate going into the Duchess’ prisons, looking for anyone she might want to take with her on her suicide mission.  She has accepted that she will die, although she’d rather not, if she can avoid it. 

As she is condemned to death, she has been given the chance to earn a pardon for her crimes by going to Anuket City, an enemy city with which the Duchess is at war, and finding a way to stop the clockwork boys.  All previous missions to stop them have been disastrous, and that’s because the clockwork boys are unstoppable killing machines.  You can see why Slate doesn’t think much of her chances.

While scouring the prisons, she encounters Caliban, a former paladin knight who was possessed by a demon.  While possessed, he killed several people, including three nuns.  Even though the demon was exorcised, nobody quite knows what to do with Caliban – he still committed the crimes, and so he has been put in prison and forgotten.

Slate offers him the chance to earn his pardon, in a sort of quirky Fantasy version of The Dirty Dozen, and he agrees.  Together with Brenner – and the magical, murderous tattoos that are going to guarantee they don’t desert their mission – they set off for Anuket City.

The narrative

It’s told in third person, switching between Slate and Caliban’s point of view.

It’s interesting to see from both their perspectives, particularly the misunderstandings that arise.  Needless to say, there is a whole load of attraction, terrible communication and a little matter of an impending attack on Anuket City.

Slate’s narrative is particularly amusing.  She is a pragmatic woman, proud of her talents, unsentimental about sex, and desperately trying to hide a soft heart.

What’s brilliant about it

I personally loved the fact that each character stuck so closely to their ‘type’.

The paladin wore his chivalry on his sleeve, so to speak, and his utter loyalty and morality were both a strength and a weakness.  He was also the only one who could ride a horse, since he was used to it.  Slate and Brenner, a forger and an assassin, had never been on a horse before and there was a whole episode in which Slate complained (hilariously) about saddle-sores and smug paladin knights.

The author uses these tropes in a knowing way, emphasising their characteristics in a way which borders on parody but which seems to have too much affection to actually be that.

Please note

This is the first half of the story and, to finish it, you need to buy The Wonder Engine: Clocktaur Wars 2.  The only thing that disappointed me with regard to this book is the fact that I felt I’d got half a story.  Also, considering it’s not very long, I felt they had needlessly cut the story in half. 

However, that is my only gripe and I am currently enjoying reading The Wonder Engine.

Tell me what you thought

Leave a comment below and tell me what you thought of the Clocktaur Wars – no spoilers for The Wonder Engine!

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