Book review - Mainspring by Jay Lake

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Book review - Mainspring by Jay Lake

Post by rocketscientist »

Not long ago I won a book - an ARC to be exact, in an online contest. The Title is Mainspring and it was given to me by the author, Jay Lake, for writing the silliest bit of fanfic based on his work. I had the dubious distinction of being the recipient of the author's choice award. :D

After reading the book I can say it's a page-turner.

Jay Lake's soon to be released in hardback (I believe) latest novel, Mainspring has to be one of his more linear plotlines, but certainly doesn't fall down on the creative end because of it. Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun meets Lloyd Alexander's Taran Wanderer may be a good way to describe the juxtaposition of simple yet elegant truths about philosophy and coming of age with some pretty sure handed and clever world building. Lake draws his scenes with an eye for detail and unflinching realism that adds a certain weight to the story. And like Wolfe's, some of the vistas are breathtaking.

Personally I'm always pleased when I have an opportunity to apply one of my useless college majors to a piece of lit. The story is layered in philosophy and Lake makes a very nice play of his stance without beating the reader over the head. As a matter of fact, the action and pace are so good, one can skip blithely through the book without paying any attention at all to the deeper themes, but it would be a mistake imo. I did tend to get my time periods a little confused, the story is set in 1900 of an alternative America, which it seems the British still control. Much of the philosophy however is of the Enlightenment era, which kinda threw me at first as I was expecting more 19cen "spiritualism" a la Blavatsky.

Sorry - I could noodle on about these things ad nauseum, so I'll stop now.

The world itself is a jewel. Lake's is a universe of clockwork and brass. Earth and all the planets revolve around the sun on tracks designed by the great clockmaker, God, or sometimes Tetragrammaton. This theme is all pervasive yet so deftly written that the reader ends up wanting to know more about these divine geometries, instead of being overwhelmed.

The archangel Gabriel himself charges young Hethor Jacques, clockmaker’s apprentice, with a divine quest. The poor boy must find the Key Perilous and rewind the mainspring of the world. As a token, the archangel leaves him with one perfect silver feather. No mean feat even for the best of men, but how is a young apprentice to accomplish it? Not by going to those with authority, he discovers. Before he even realizes it, he is summarily accused of stealing and cast out of his master's house after being relieved of his precious token.

If it weren't for the good offices of those he meets along the way, like the ancient Librarian Childress and those who honor the name of the 'white bird', poor Hethor wouldn't have made it a day. As it is, his quest takes him to lands fantastic and magical, brutal and surreal, where he learns that many things he held to be true are false, but the inclination of his heart is pure.

There are some philosophical issues I wish he had gone into in more depth about at the end, but I know he has a couple of sequels planned.

I would definitely put this on the "must read" list for an exciting new take on genre.[/i]

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Post by Windwalker »

I read and liked several of Wolfe and Alexander's works, so a book that partakes of both is a good bet. It sounds like a major shift in gears for Lake, as well. Did I just make a pun??

From your description, the premise reminds me of the central concept of Zelazny's Shadowjack. In that book the Lucifer/Promethus-like (anti)hero has to retrieve a magical key to restart a planet whose rotation has stopped, separating it into the day (science) and night (magic) sides.
For I come from an ardent race
That has subsisted on defiance and visions.

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Post by intrigued_scribe »

Excellent stuff, here! The concept of Earth and the other planets moving on celestial tracks is a wholly arresting one, as is the notion of God (or Tetragrammaton) as the great clockmaker. I also like the concept of a young, seemingly ordinary and unassuming protagonist drawn into a staggering set of circumstances and rising to the occasion. I'll certainly have to add Mainspring to my list of "must read" titles. Thanks for the terrific rec! :D


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