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Escapement by Jay Lake

01/01/2009. Contributed by Tomas L. Martin

Buy Escapement in the USA - or Buy Escapement in the UK

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pub: TOR/Forge. 384 page hardback. Price: $25.95 (US), $28.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-1709-4.

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Jay Lake's first novel 'Mainspring' set the scene for an audacious world that travelled along a metal rail in the sky, part of a clockwork ornery built by some unspecified divine creator. The world beneath this inventive twist on the 'Blind Watchmaker' parable had some resemblances to our own with the continents similar, bar the metal wall rising from the equator.

Much is changed, however, between Lake's world and our own. The British Empire still rule over America and much of the West, with China a similar super-power in the East. The British dominate the skies with navies of airships and the Chinese furrow the sea with submarines. The church is powerful and more technical than ours, focusing on the power of the clockwork engines that drive this strange world.

In our first journey to the world, young apprentice Hethor travelled where few else did across the equator in an attempt to top the slowing of the world's turning. In this sequel, the focus moves to another brilliant young mind as well as some of the incidental characters we encountered last time.

Paolina Barthes lives in a Central American village on the outskirts of the huge mountain passes that lead up to the great metal wall at the equator. She possesses a brilliant mind, a genius that comprehends the intricate workings of the Earth and stars. Trying to unlock the secrets of the universe, she builds a 'gleam', a pocket watch collection of gears and springs that harnesses the motions that drive the world to do far more than tell the time.

Misunderstood and mistreated by the males in her village, Paolina escapes to travel in search of the magicians she has learned of in the British Empire. Along the way, she encounters Boaz, a melancholy man made of brass, who protects her on her journey across the Wall.

Meanwhile, in two parts of the British Empire other heroes are set on their journey. Threadgill Angus Al-Wazir was chief petty officer of the Bassett, the airship Hethor travelled on in the first book. After being shipwrecked and recovering to England, Al-Wazir is sent with another party to the Wall, this time to dig through it.

Emily Childress, the librarian at Yale divinity school that helped speed Hethor on his way, is caught up on another journey. Blamed for the death of a sorcerer, she is taken from Connecticut on a journey that results in a mistaken identity that changes her life.

Whilst I admire much of the set-up of 'Escapement', I couldn't help feel that Lake had created a world, characters and situations that promised much, but then failed to take full advantage of them. I felt that much of the second half of the book the characters simply travelled from place to place without much reasoning. We saw more of the world, but in too haphazard a manner to be truly satisfying.

Jay Lake is without doubt an extremely talented writer and I appreciated much of his work in this book and the one that came before it. I feel his structure and plotting falls a little short of his immaculate characterisation and world-building, however, at this stage in his career. 'Escapement' is an enjoyable look into a re-imagined world, but I think that Lake's future efforts will hopefully outshine this one given time.

Tomas L. Martin

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