Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Doomsday Vault (Clockwork Empire #1) by Steven Harper

Posted by Simcha 5:52 PM, under | 4 comments

All across the world, zombies roam the streets at night, infecting those they touch with the Clockwork Plague. Most of the infected die horrible, drawn-out, deaths, but some people are affected differently and instead of destroying their brains the plague enhances them. These people are called Clockworkers and they are responsible for creating the greatest inventions of the time. Unfortunately the disease eventually causes them to go mad.

In Victorian England, Alice Michaels lives with the horrible knowledge that it was because of her that her family was infected by the Clockwork Plague, leading to death of her mother and brother. Alice will therefore do whatever it takes to bring her father the happiness he deserves, even if it means attending balls in order to capture for herself a wealthy husband. Unfortunately Alice's social standings have dropped so far that no one in Society is interested in having anything to do with her, until Mr. Norbert Williamson shows up. Mr. Williamson is new to London and a bit of a mystery, but Alice doesn't much care as long as he is willing to provide for her and her father, even if he doesn't excite her the way the romance novels and poetry describe.

But Alice's resolve to go along with her father's plans wavers when she gets her first taste of excitement and adventure, after helping quell a zombie attack. Alice's loyalties to her father, and propriety,  are strained even further when her path crosses that of a young man who makes her feel the excitement that she never felt with Mr. Williamson. But despite her own desires Alice knows that her duty to her father comes first. Though when a new Clockworker appears, stirring the zombies to attack the populace, Alice may be the only one who can stop it because for some reason it keeps seeking her out.

Gavin Ennock is a seventeen year-old cabin boy, on the USS Juniper airship, with a talent for playing the violin. Gavin can't imagine any other life other than that on an airship, but after his ship is attached by pirates Gavin finds himself alone and destitute on the streets of London. By playing his violin in the park Gavin manages to make enough money to feed himself, and hopefully enough to eventually get him back home. But Gavin's talent gains him unwanted attention and once again he finds himself captured, and at a stranger's mercy. Though this time Gavin is saved by a beautiful young woman who helps direct him onto a new path of adventure and excitement, working for a secret government organization, fighting zombies and capturing Clockworkers.

I'm not sure what it is about Victorian England but for some reason I really enjoy reading stories that take place in that time and setting and The Doomsday Vault was no exception. The Doomsday Vault was a fun and thrilling fast-paced adventure full of engaging characters and plenty of surprises. The premise of the story was unique, with all of biggest inventions of the time being credited to this rare form of the zombie Plague that enhances the inventor's skills, before leading them to madness. I particularly enjoyed all the interesting and unexpected twists that kept popping up, just when I thought I had the story figured out, particularly towards the end.

Alice is great character, and one who I was easily able to sympathize with. Her run-in with the zombies has given her a taste for adventure and the desire to use her skills to make a difference in the world, even as she struggles to stay on the path of propriety for the sake of her father. She is constantly in fear of becoming one of those wild Ad Hoc women that she has heard so much about, even though this is exactly the kind of woman she really longs to be.

One of my favorite interaction between Alice and Gavin comes right after she assists him in capturing a crazed Clockworker, which leads them to spending the night together unchaperoned. The next day Alice insists they come up with a cover-story so that no one will suspect her of impropriety.

    “Speaking of which,” Alice put in, “how are we going to handle the travel and explanations?” 
    Gavin looked puzzled. “I don't understand.”  
    “Gavin,” she said gently, “as a traditional woman, I can drive about London with a man who isn't my husband or father as long as we are in public. But I can't go overnight with him. Even an Ad Hoc lady couldn't do that. I'm not even coming back in my own clothes.”  
    “Oh. Right. It's always something stupid,” He scratched his cheek, which was growing raspy. “Look, I don't think anyone saw you leave London with me....If anyone does know you left town overnight, we'll tell him Baron captured you. I, an agent of the Crown, rescued you in a daring raid at dawn, and now I'm seeing you home. Your dress was badly torn in the rescue so you bravely donned a spare set of man's clothes. How's that?” 
    “Why am I the one who gets captured?”  
    “You're the traditional lady.”
So while Alice would love to run around, battling zombies and saving the day she feels bound to follow of the role of a traditional lady, because that's what's expected of her.

What I found interesting about Gavin was that he's so different from the kind of male protagonist that are usually featured in these kind of stories. Usually the male is a real Alpha personality, a larger-than life character who is confident, handsome and overly protective of his female counterpart, whom he is often in a constant battle of wills with. Some examples that come to mind are Lord Maccon from Gail Carriger's Soulless, James Easton from Y.S Lee's Agency series and Alexi Rychman from Leanna Renee Hieber's Strangely Beautiful series. 

Gavin, though, was a lot more, well, normal. While he was handsome, as a good male lead should be, he wasn't overly confident, or brave or of superior intelligence . But he was more of an average guy, though a very nice and talented one. It was also unusual that he was actually a few years younger then Alice. While I thought it was rather nice to have this unconventional kind of hero, I was also a bit disappointed because I do like those Alpha males. I kept expecting him to be more forceful whenever Alice pulled away, and to chase her a bit more, but this wasn't the case. I wonder if the fact that the author is a male gave him a different perspective in creating Gavin. I don't think any of the other similar book that I've read were by male authors.

I usually enjoy reading about the different steampunk inventions in these books but I didn't find the ones in The Doomsday Book very convincing. Alice's robots seemed strangely independent for mechanical creations and there is a huge mechanical tree that shows up though I couldn't imagine why anyone would create a huge tree as a means of transportation. It seemed very impractical to me.

The Doomsday Book has almost everything I like in a good book including adventure, romance, some humor and a strong female protagonist. It was a lot of fun and can't wait for the next installment in the series.


i definitely like this cover!! sounds so good!

Carrie: Yeah, it was the cover that first drew me to this book. Though I don't remember there being any rifles in the story...

Wow, this one sounds so good! I know I'd love it, so I'll have to get it ;) Thanks for the review, this one is new to me, so adding it on my wishlist now!

Victorian England alone, nah not so much, but in steampunk, oh I love it to pieces

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