Theological steampunk set in a mechanical universe—the debut novel from a noted short-story writer.
The planets circle the sun on clockwork tracks plainly visible in the sky. Young clockmaker’s apprentice Hethor Jacques of New Haven, Conn., hopes one day to be a master clockmaker—until the Archangel Gabriel charges him with a mission: to locate the Key Perilous and rewind the Mainspring of the earth. As a token, Gabriel gives Hethor a wing-feather which immediately turns to silver and burns a key-shaped scar into Hethor’s palm. Hethor consults his patron, old Franklin Bodean, whose sons rob him of the feather and accuse him of lying. Discharged, Hethor heads for Boston, hoping for a meeting with His Majesty’s Viceroy and his daunting associate, the sorcerer William of Ghent. Assisted by members of a secret society, Hethor reaches Boston, only to be ridiculed by the viceroy and rejected by the sorcerer; for his pains, he’s press-ganged into service upon the Royal Navy airship Bassett. The airship’s secret mission is to locate an expeditionary force missing on the equatorial Wall which supports the brass teeth that engage the solar track. Though vast and precipitous, the Wall is inhabited by various wonderful races and automata. When winged barbarians capture ship’s navigator Simeon Malgus, Hethor must follow Malgus up and over the Wall into the unknown but supposedly highly magical Southern Earth.
Despite some good elements—intriguing alternate history, solid characters, briskly moving plot—God created everything in Lake’s meticulous scenario, and events are explicable only in terms of Him. Precious little room, then, for mystery, suspense, a sense of wonder or even suspension of disbelief.