In a return to the steampunk-flavored world of her first novel, Cato (The Clockwork Dagger, 2014) sends her likable cast of characters on a more tightly written, higher stakes fantasy adventure.
After evading the dangers, both magical and political, of The Clockwork Dagger, Octavia Leander finds herself fleeing from assassination and in search of an explanation for the sudden, frightening intensification of her powers as a healer. Her traveling companion is the handsome, devoted Alonzo Garret, a former assassin and spy–turned–diligent protector who provides Octavia with a bluntly appealing romantic interest and bantering partner. Their search for safety and knowledge takes them from the familiar but conflict-ravaged country of Caskentia to the southern nation of Tamarania, where education and invention are prized and magic is looked upon with distaste. Unsurprisingly, danger and intrigue soon follow, and Octavia and Alonzo run an engaging, if predictable, series of adventures that involve murder attempts, kidnapping, battling mecha matches, and a host of the endearing, human-created chimeras known as “gremlins.” Octavia’s powers continue to change, growing ever stronger, stranger, and more unsettling. Her reaction to the transformation of her magic, and her fear of what it means for herself and her beliefs, gives the pleasant entertainment of the novel a welcome jolt of human disquiet. The story often rides on the appeal of well-trodden territory—the characters and magic system feel like variations on familiar fantasy types; the trappings and accessories of steampunk serve as unexamined decoration—but its ingenuous fondness for those comfortable elements and the occasional sacrifice it requires from its characters gives it a charming energy that keeps the pages turning.
A satisfying follow-up that sticks to the comforts of familiar fantasy elements but still offers an entertaining, swiftly moving adventure in the company of Cato’s appealing characters.