TL;DR: A quick escape from the mundanity of life with a dose of laughter and fantasy made unusual.
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A ninja accountant, a smoking assassin, a paladin with a dead demon, and a misogynistic, impressionable genius teen scholar set out on a suicide mission. They stand a higher likelihood of killing each other before the mission gets them, and that’s before they leave the city.
Clockwork Boys is a delightful read. It is also my first Ursula Vernon (writing as T. Kingfisher) story, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. According to most reviews, this book is a little darker than her regular stuff, but to me after reading so many doomsday books and articles in 2017, her words are a refreshing breath in 2018.
The characters are really what make Clockwork Boys come alive. Slate, the main character is a resigned 30-year old forger who, according to her own description, is nondescript. She has an inconvenient magical gift tied to her nose, and a gift for staying alive. Also I have not seen anyone do nose-related magic well and Ursula nails it here.
Caliban is great as the paladin with a hole in his soul and a demon on his mind. He’s a very pretty paladin (as is noted by other readers) and I like that in addition to his brooding, he can be rather dumb yet smart. His struggle with his faith was something I did not expect to resonate with me, but his resolution was certainly… interesting.
Brenner, whom I will call the transactional assassin, is really good at killing and very practical. For a practical assassin though, I am surprised to find that he smokes; I didn’t think an assassin would give themselves away with that habit but maybe it works a little differently in that world, who knows?
Rounding up the group is nineteen year old Learned Edmund, who is the healer and kid who thinks women will jump on him the moment they get the chance to. Also hello misogyny. It’s a very good take on specialisation and incredible nitpicking.
I love the chemistry and I love what happens in this story, and I cannot wait for the sequel. That said, I have a lot of questions after reading this book.
The worldbuilding feels somewhat haphazard. We’re given glimpses but it feels a bit like what I’d expect to read in a summary of a dungeonmaster’s setting. Some things happen in the book that make me go “bwuh?” particularly where geography is concerned but I’m hoping that the Wonder Machine will fill in the blanks.
Summary? This book makes a great reward for completing small but unpleasant tasks. It is also very hard to put down, so don’t make my mistake and read it before bed. Do it after dinner instead.