T. Kingfisher is a comfort read for me. Her stories are often retellings of fairy tales, or inspired by fairy tale tropes. Whereas in traditional tales we’re usually told that the hero or heroine is “good” and “kind-hearted” and that’s about the end of their characterization, Kingfisher has a real gift of creating these well-rounded variations on the archetypal characters, so that you genuinely care about them and want them to succeed. She creates characters who are good and kind-hearted, but they also have depth.
Having told you all that… Clockwork Boys is a book about criminals.
Not wrongly convicted criminals, framed for a crime they didn’t commit. Not good people imprisoned by a corrupt king.
Straight up, honest-to-goodness, killed people criminals.
Well, not all of them are killers. Slate, one of our narrators, is a forger. She specializes in falsifying financial documents. She’s smart, good at math, non-descript… Your typical bookish heroine who just happens to be a career criminal.
Our other narrator, Sir Caliban, is a fallen paladin who murdered a bunch of nuns. He carries about a lot of guilt, a certain amount of PTSD, an undead demon in the back of his brain, and a satisfying amount of sarcasm.
They’re joined on their mission by an assassin, and by a non-criminal scholar (with a criminal level of misogyny).
Oh, and rather than being on an epic quest, they’re on a suicide mission in to enemy territory. Yay!
If the title “Clockwork Boys” lead you (like me) to assume this was some sort of romp involving pre-teens in a steampunk world, guess again. The titular boys are horrifying centaur-like… things… used by the enemy army. No one’s quite sure if they’re machines or living things, whether they’re made or born. But our intrepid band of adventurers has to find out, and not only that, figure out how to stop them.
Previous groups have tried and died. Will this motley crew of anti-heroes succeed?
Although this isn’t a fairy tale, it still has that T. Kingfisher comfort read feel. The stakes are high, and the characters have accepted the inevitability of their own deaths, but it doesn’t feel grim. They banter, there are action scenes, and the reader just holds on to hope that somehow, they’ll succeed where others have failed and get the pardons they’ve been promised.
Clockwork Boys is the first book of a duology, with the second one slated to come out in February. It doesn’t end on a literal cliffhanger, but it does leave things completely unresolved. If you’re a reader who prefers to have things neatly tied up in a bow, you may want to wait a few months, buy both, and read them back-to-back so it just feels like one long novel.
Pros: Likeable characters, kind of a fantasy version of Suicide Squad sans Jared Leto.
Cons: Gotta wait for that second book, occasional sudden POV shifts.
Conclusion: If you’ve got some time off for the holidays, this is a good way to spend a few entertaining hours. Would pair well with popcorn and cocoa.
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