A friend of mine told me yesterday that they didn’t care for Clockwork Heart’s sequels nearly as much as the original. That Dru Pagliassotti had set the bar too high and these two simply couldn’t measure up. I replied that I couldn’t accurately judge until I’d finished Clockwork Secrets: Heavy Fire. At the same time, I was reminded of something I heard about Michael Jackson. You see, after the massive success of his Thriller album, Bad seemed to be a letdown. However, if we look back, some of Jackson’s best work was on Bad. It’s just that everyone was so hyped up for Thriller that any merely human album following it would be a letdown.
Do I think Clockwork Lies and Clockwork Secrets are perfect? Absolutely not. But I don’t think that of Clockwork Heart either. I will admit that all the cloak-and-dagger spy stuff kind of gets old after a while, but that’s because I’m not particularly interested in sensational thrillers. And I think that there’s a fair bit of coincidences…but when Cristof Forlore is the only exalted ambassador and Taya is his icarus and wife…it makes sense that they’d end up in these crazy situations.
In the end, I find it difficult to complain a book that ends with me laughing.
They say you should finish strong, because whatever you end with will be the last impression a reader has of your book. And that’s true. I laughed as much after Clockwork Secrets as I did for C.S. Friedman’s The Madness Season. Not that these two books have much else in common, but that’s not the point. The point is that the last thing I read was hilarious and I loved it and even if this book isn’t perfect, it ended on a great note.
There’s more travel here than in the last book, and over larger distances too, so not quite as much time is spent describing the journeys, which is fine. We do get to visit two new countries: one in greater detail than the other though. There’s a fair bit on the horror of war, which has been touched upon in the first two novels, but is expanded and expounded upon here (war sucks, yo). Most importantly, most of the storylines have been wrapped up by the finale, and it looks like things will finally calm down for a while.
Clockwork Secrets is described as the final book in the Clockwork Trilogy and I’d agree with that. It is what a third book should be; the biggest, the messiest, the one that wraps it all up. However, the world Pagliassotti’s created isn’t small and has a great deal of depth. I could definitely see her revisiting these places and/or characters again in separate novels or short stories. Either later on in the timeline or at different locations during the already-existing books. I’m not demanding a sequel or anything, just observing that I feel more stories could be told, if the author so chooses.
One nice touch is that the reader gets a chance to consider several different viewpoints, such as that of Ondinium, Demicus, Cabiel, and even a bit of Mareaux. That last seems best at keeping its opinions to itself and just trying to stay out of the war. Kind of like a gamer sitting at a table declaring to their fellows “I’m Switzerland!”
Do I agree with my friend? I don’t think so. I like that Clockwork Heart can stand completely on its own, but this is no surprise considering that Clockwork Lies wasn’t released until five years later, with Clockwork Secrets following a year after that. These books weren’t originally conceived as a trilogy and so while the two newer volumes twine together, they do have a different tone and feel in many ways from the first. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can’t possibly be surprising.
Authors are always growing and developing as they work, just like anyone else. Clockwork Heart was Paglassotti’s first novel and we all know that nobody’s first novel is perfect. I was talking to Lauren Jankowski about Sere from the Green and its revision process and she commented that its page count has jumped the most of her first four books. Which is quite surprising given that it was the first book, the roughest book, the book that most clearly showed how much she has learned and grown since it was written. I cannot hold a first book against an author for having normal “first book issues” so long as I enjoy reading it. What’s important is that successive books improve from that jumping-off point.
So in that respect, I suspect that the later two books are probably technically better. They don’t have the same sense of wonder and discovery as the first, but it’s difficult to do that when the first book in a world is our initial introduction and exploration of a brand new world. And, to be fair, I think Clockwork Secrets captures a bit of that when our heroes visit Cabiel for the first time, Taya’s dream come true.
Actually, part of what works and creates that sense of wonder in both Clockwork Heart and Cabiel is Taya’s viewpoint. Taya loves her country, her city, and her job, and that joy permeates everything she does and everything she is. Cabiel is, as I said, a country she has always longed to visit, and being able to do so, regardless of circumstance, is a dream come true. So of course those experiences are much more positive than say…Alanza.
At the end of the night, I guess I’m saying that I can’t really judge if one book is better than the other two or not. I’ve enjoyed all three, and am pleased to own them. And who knows, maybe someday soon I’ll see something else by Dru Pagliassotti.