There are times when I see a book, either at the library or in a store or maybe even on Twitter, and I just know. I know that is a book I must read. I know that is a book which I will love. When I pick it up it’s like we were meant to meet, and if it could speak I know it would ask me, “What took you so long?”
This is one of those books.
While it’s hard to choose just one favorite thing, if I had to, it would be how much fun this book is. The start of it was a lot darker and more intense than I was expecting, and yet despite the violence and the struggle, (none of which was triggering to me, for once) this book is a complete blast to read. Plus, all of the amazing plot twists we get right from the beginning! Almost everything about this book breaks away from what I expected, leaving me with an exciting adventure where I genuinely wasn’t quite sure what would happen next.
The protagonist is lovely, a woman who has truly found her calling in life and means to follow it no matter what. She also escapes the soul-sucking trap of “plucky”, which is a relief. Her love interest, as I’ve mentioned, is fantastic. I adored him. 😍 There are other characters which I was truly fascinated by, though I don’t want to say too much about them for fear of spoilers! And I appreciate that the “bad guys” in this book aren’t really obvious until it’s time for them to be.
Full disclosure: I’ve spent most of my life strenuously avoiding the steampunk genre. Technically, I was around before it even became a genre, back when pretty much our only go-to representation was Will Smith’s adventures in the Wild, Wild West. But as the years passed, I found myself surrounded by a lot of folks who thought steampunk was lower than horse poop, which meant that if I wanted to keep my friends (or at least, not have them yell at me), I could never ever read or engage with steampunk.
So I didn’t.
After reading The Clockwork Dagger, I realize what a bitter shame this is. How much cool stuff did I miss? Yes, there is definitely steampunk stuff out there which sucks royally. Yes, people who are tired of steampunk as a genre or who think it’s been misused/made too mainstream have every right to their opinions, and I don’t mean this review to slander them. And yes, steampunk as a genre has some serious problems with race, ableism, sexism, and LGBT issues. (Which is specifically disappointing since steampunk literally exists to subvert the time in which it takes place, and yet trades on so many tired Isms under the lazy veil of “historical accuracy”) But I have to admit that I’m a little frustrated that I let public opinion keep me away from a genre which appeals to me as much as this one does.
While we’re on the subject, I do have a few small criticisms of Clockwork Dagger; in point of fact I have exactly two. My views are vaguely spoilerish, so if you don’t want any information about this book or its characters prior to reading, please skip this next part.
My first criticism is that Alonzo never really escapes the role of “servant” in this book. (Technically he is not a servant, he is an employee; but he is most definitely still on the wait-staff) While that’s definitely not the whole of who he is, it’s how he’s presented most often, and there’s some pretty serious baggage surrounding a white woman falling in love with a black man who relates to her almost exclusively from the role of “I am here to serve your needs.” I have a feeling that this will be rectified in the rest of the series, however I would feel remiss if I didn’t point it out. Even as much as I enjoyed the book, I was left wishing that Alonzo had been given a bit more agency. While it is super hot to have a handsome, capable man constantly supporting you and being there when you need him…well, as I said, there’s baggage here.
My second criticism is that one of the other characters, Viola Stout, initially starts out as someone who is very interesting, but quickly goes from Intriguing Older Lady to Fat, Matronly Worry Wart. (Who won’t stop fussing over Octavia’s “virtue” and the decisions she makes in her own love life, as if this isn’t super boring and in Every Damn Book Ever) I was so disappointed. A financially independent older woman who has adventures and writes trashy erotica novels to fund her shenanigans? I was so excited! While by the end I still liked Viola, I felt a lot of potential was wasted here. And I swear to god, if I never read/hear the phrase “her fingers were like sausages” ever again, it will be too soon. Shame on anyone who uses this descriptor or who allows it to be published.
All in all, I adored The Clockwork Dagger and I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel. Read this book! It’s so much fun!