Thursday, July 18, 2013

Jay Lake Pre-Mortem Readathon, Review the Fourth: PINION

PINION (Clockwork Earth #3)
Tor Books
$26.99 hardcover, available now
Reviewed by Richard, 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Rejoin the adventure in the third novel of Lake’s Clockwork Earth series. Paolina Barthes, young sorceress, is crossing the Equatorial Wall, attempting to take herself and her magic away from the grasp of powerful men in the empires of the north. Emily Childress is still aboard the renegade Chinese submarine, along with her devoted Captain, and the British chief petty officer Angus al-Wazir. They are all being sought most urgently by the powers that secretly rule the Northern Earth--the Silent Order and the White Birds. And a third power, of the Southern Earth, has its eye on Paolina; she will not be allowed to bring the political turmoil of the North into the more mystical South.

My Review: It's been my habit to put these Jay Lake Pre-Mortem Read-a-thon reviews up early on my appointed blog-posting day. This one's going up almost the next day. It's been very hard to write.

I started this project as a way of making sure that one reader of Lake's novels says a public thank you to the man before he finishes his journey. To my pleased surprise, he's noticed this and graciously acknowledged it. The Jay Wake, his self-hosted funeral festivity, is in the immediate future; I'll have another review before then; but Pinion, the final Clockwork Earth novel, brought home to me just that: Finality.

While the story lines of Boaz, the Brass man from the days of King Solomon's court, Paolina the brash miracle-worker, Emily Childress the librarian-turned-avebianco-Mask, Wang the librarian and traitor whose destiny is at right angles to his desires, and even Hethor, the clockmaker's apprentice who saved the world, are wound into a charming tassel herein this is the last visit we'll pay to this marvelous, blasphemous, gorgeous alternative Universe with its radically different laws of physics.

Oh heavy heavy sigh.

Well, that said, let's get on to the story. The Chinese Empire and the British Raj are, as great empires are wont to be, on the brink of war. The Chinese want to (re)build the Golden Bridge that once connected the industrial and mechanistic Northern Earth to the Edenic, spiritual Southern Earth. The British don't want them to do that before they themselves build a tunnel to accomplish the same purpose.

Both sides want the prize, the booty, the imperial power over the Southern Earth. The avebianco and the Silent Order, opposing mystical societies with special and nonmaterial means of control, don't want the Wall that the Earth's gears travel atop (remember I spoke of the alternative physics of this world) breached for their own reasons. No one takes much account of what the Southern Earth's peoples might want. (This should sound familiar.)

At the heart of this conflict are the actors on our literary stage, the wild Paolina and the librarian/Mask Childress. They spend their efforts to prevent a ridiculous war, release a dead Queen from mechanical bondage to earth, and preserve God's ordered construction against the day that the sides can be brought together without ill will or evil intent.

What a great thing this Wall is! The almost-accidental destruction of colonialism prevented by a physical, insurmountable barrier that is peopled by scary monsters. I love this idea, and the idea of the Brass people created by King Solomon and vivified by his Seal! It's a beautiful Earth, this one. The Seal of Solomon (Place me like a SEAL upon your heart, like a SEAL on your arm. For love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Song of Solomon 8:6) set the Brass into action in the world, and in their immensely long lives the world's peoples benefited from the wisdom of their detached-yet-present perspective. The slow, inevitable decline of any powerful people has come upon them. Now Boaz, a rebel from their midst and an uncontrolled actor in their controlled society, finishes King Solomon's plan for the world:
The threads within his mind were a chaotic stir, not unpleasant, but not simple. He tried to listen, to pick out what they were saying, but just as he'd wanted them quiet before, now he wanted them to speak out.
Was this what it meant to be human? To wish for the impossible, to never clearly hear the tenor of one's own thoughts?
If that was the price of love, he was willing to pay it.
And that, really, is the message of the books of the Clockwork Earth. It's fitting that the series end here, with that clear insight into the murk of having a soul, and that clear acceptance of the price a being pays for being capable of insight. Resistance is, in fact, futile: Run away, hide as best you can, life comes down to that. Do you accept the price of being conscious and aware, or do you dream your life away?

Maybe it takes a Clockwork Earth, a created artifact of a divine mind omnipresent, to make the starkness of the choice we're all required to face this clear and sharp.

Sharp things cut. Never forget that.

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