Thursday, July 11, 2013

Jay Lake Pre-Mortem Read-a-thon, Review the third: ESCAPEMENT

ESCAPEMENT (Clockwork Earth #2)
Tor Books
$25.95 hardcover, available now

Reviewed by Richard, 4.4* of five

The Publisher Says: In his novel Mainspring, Lake created an enormous canvas for storytelling with his hundred mile high Equatorial Wall that holds up the great Gears of the Earth. Now in Escapement, he explores more of that territory.

Paolina Barthes is a young woman of remarkable intellectual ability – a genius on the level of Isaac Newton. But she has grown up in isolation, in a small village of shipwreck survivors, on the Wall in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. She knows little of the world, but she knows that England rules it, and must be the home of people who possess the learning that she so desperately wants. And so she sets off to make her way off the Wall, not knowing that she will bring her astounding, unschooled talent for sorcery to the attention of those deadly factions who would use or kill her for it.

My Review: You know an idea is good when the rating for the middle book in a trilogy is this close to the first book. The Clockwork Earth is a fine idea. It can bear the weight of different viewpoints and stories set in its boundaries and constrained by its rules, which means it's about ten times better thought out than most books in any genre.

Hethor's inspiration in Mainspring, the librarian Emily Chambers, shows up here; so does the Basset's Chief Petty Officer al-Wazir the Scot (!); and out third main actor, Paolina Barthes, is met at her native village on a Muralha -- the Wall that the great brass gears of the Universe run atop.

You see, the Universe is a clockwork mechanism, a brass-bound orrery of a place, and the Wall separates for all eternity the halves of God's Creation into Northern and Southern worlds. They are largely unknown to each other, and the Wall that separates them, in addition to being quite dauntingly high, is rife with God's odds-and-sods of Creation: monsters, to the English who rule the Northern Earth.

Paolina, on meeting the shipwrecked loblolly boy from the Bassett when he's brought to her village, receives her summons to greatness. She is a genius, you see, a wasted force in her tiny village. She knows it, the village knows it, but Clarence merely knows he can't go on and can't quit either. He divests himself of his chronometer to Paolina, in thanks for her rescue of him from certain death at the hands of the village elders.

And thus begins the tale of the gleams, the clockwork mechanisms that Paolina (a quick study and a brilliant scientist) creates. They are capable of resonating with the clockwork gears of the Universe, of influencing and controlling them. Of course the avebianco, Emily Childress's order of mystical practictioners and wardens of the balance of the world, wants to know what is going on. As do the Chinese, the enemies of the British. And of course the child's immense giftedness causes problems and creates death and chaos.

And in the end, isn't that where we all are? A giant gap between North and South, an absence of even the possibility communication, and vast power that can change or destroy the entire Universe as we know it, is wielded by a mere child. (Keep in mind this book was written during the Bush presidency.)

As Lake weaves a story of Paolina's voyage in the world beyond the Wall she grew up on, it pays to think a bit about what she is doing. Her immense native talent is sought after by the powers that be in her world. She's never given a moment to think through her actions to create results. She has to move, keep moving, stay one step ahead of people who want to control her and thus her gift for one purpose only: Their own gain. Victory for them. Dress it up how you like, Paolina is expendable so long as her knowledge is secured for Us to use against Them.

Her moral quandary (is it ever right, ever moral, to hand one party to a competition the full and complete means of winning?) is, but by bit, honed into a sharp blade for her defense of herself. Merely asking the questions she's forced into asking herself is an act of fiercest rebellion in a clockwork universe, ordered by God.

Emily and al-Wazir play their roles in moving Paolina from place to place, and face a few difficult moments themselves, but make no mistake: this is Paolina's book. That's it's strength and its weakness. The characters are as fully realized as the authorship of Lake can make them, which is well and truly rounded. That doesn't prevent them from being means to an end. Emily, as a powerful figure in the avebianco (White Birds), is a woman in charge of a huge amount of influence in the world; her interest in Paolina is natural; but the demands of the story leave Emily in a teacher's role again, as with Hethor in Mainspring. It's true that this time she plays a more central and significant teacher's role, but she's still mostly a means to move the story from pillar to post.

Which is what happens a lot. We're on the move at all times. Sometimes that feels more like being on a transcontinental train trip than it does like a walk through a garden. That's a good thing, of course, for interest's sake, but not always comfortable reading. The Chinese don't come in for much development, and the settings can become a bit blurred together because the drama is so high.

Why complain about that? Because the settings are so unbelievably COOL! I want more! More! Each time we're in an airship, I want more. Each port of call, I find out enough to make me want more! I have expositionus interruptus and, like the thing that phrase is modeled on, satiation and satisfaction are not to be had.

Bad Jay Lake! Bad!

So I knocked a few points off the score, so what. It's still a terrific book. And one thing I am sure of, the sequel (Pinion) and me are gonna have some quality time together. Soon.Creative Commons License
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  1. oh boy oh boy oh boy *rubbing hands gleefully*

  2. Look at you reading what the kids are reading! You're a good deal hipper than me.

    1. Hipper? It is to laugh, sirrah! HIPPIER perhaps.

    2. Richard has his finger on the pulse of today's youths. It's a form of foreplay with them...

    3. Dan! Giving away my dirty-old-man secrets like that. Shame!