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Mainspring (Clockwork Earth) Hardcover – June 12, 2007

3 out of 5 stars 58 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Clockwork Earth Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lake (Trial of Flowers) envisions the universe as an enormous clockwork, put in motion by God, complete with gears and a mainspring hidden at the Earth's center, in his intriguing first trade hardcover novel, a fantasy set in the magic-tinged late 19th century. Archangel Gabriel charges clockmaker's apprentice Hethor Jacques with a quest: he must find the lost Key Perilous so that the Mainspring of the World can be rewound. Hethor leaves New Haven, Conn., for Boston, where he boards Her Imperial Majesty's Ship of the Air Bassett and travels south to the towering Equatorial Wall, along the top of which run the great gears that rotate the earth. Hethor soon discovers opponents who don't want the mainspring rewound. He must deal with dark magicians, monstrous winged savages, mechanical men and other wonders during his epic journey, which takes him over the wall and into a land of wonders. The author of more than 200 short stories, Lake demonstrates his enormously fertile imagination in this unusual book, marred only by some sluggish pacing. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In a visibly clocklike world, a clockmaker's apprentice with an excellent ear for the meshing of time at midnight is visited by the angel Gabriel, who tells him he must seek the Key Perilous, travel to the Earth's workings, and wind the mainspring, or disaster will ensue. Hethor, the apprentice, has no idea what the Key Perilous is, so he goes to his master's son, Pryce, who ridicules him and accuses him of stealing the feather the angel left as proof of the visitation. Fortunately, the librarian Hethor meets next is more sympathetic and provides him with guidance and a pass code that serves him well in the adventures he has after Pryce's accusation gets him kicked out of town. Imprisonment, impression into the royal navy, in which he learns the art of navigating an airship, and a final plunge into and beyond the wilds of the equatorial wall on the southern continents highlight the journey, during which Hethor meets all sorts of fascinating people and members of the more mysterious races living on and over the wall. Lake's steampunk-esque alternative nineteenth century is an astonishing, marvelous place, and the quest for the world's mainspring is a fascinating fable of a young man's sudden, unexpected education out in and about the great world. Schroeder, Regina
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Series: Clockwork Earth (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; First Edition edition (June 12, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765317087
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765317087
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #356,419 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jay Lake lives in Portland, Oregon, where he works on numerous writing and editing projects. His 2010 books are _Pinion_ from Tor Books, _The Baby Killers_ from PS Publishing, and _The Sky That Wraps_ from Subterranean Press. His short fiction appears regularly in literary and genre markets worldwide. Jay is a winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and a multiple nominee for the Hugo and World Fantasy Awards. Jay can be reached through his Web site at jlake.com.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I'll start it short: This is a terrible book.

The premise is excellent, as is the cover. The execution, however, is amateurish at best and laughable at worst. There were some 4 star moments, though - the journey, to be fair, proceeded as follows:

3 stars, 4 stars, 3, 4, 2, 2, 1...

The second half of this book is so unsatisfying, and the ending so trite and faux-didactic that I had trouble not throwing it across the room. As a massive sf/fantasy literary snob (China Mieville is my hero), I was actually insulted to have been conned into buying and reading this book.

The premise is classic steampunk/clockpunk - what if the solar system were a giant clockwork mechanism, and the planet was winding down and needed to be rewound? The book, however, is classic bait-and-switch. There is no steampunk here beyond the premise, and after the halfway point the book just becomes tiresome and tedious. The main character is uninteresting, his 'perils' uninspiring, and we are never concerned that he is in any danger of failure on his quest. Actions, scenes, characters and ideas are thrown around, but the author never does us the courtesy of explaining them. The message of the entire book seems to be 'trust in god' which never sits well with me anyway, but this message isn't even delivered in an interesting way. A massive, massive disappointment, and I should probably give the book away to someone I don't like.

Have I mentioned how terrible this book is?
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Format: Hardcover
This is very clever idea. What if the idea of the Universe as a clockwork mechanism was not merely a metaphor but literally true? Lake constructs a clever alternate universe based on this idea. He also inserts a clever religious theme. Unfortunately, characterization and quality of writing are not particularly good and the plot is perhaps too elaborate.
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Format: Hardcover
Lake does well with setting the stage and presenting uncommon ideas in a common and familiar era. Interesting characters, scenery and uncommon mechanical devices set the plot in an exciting direction towards a fascinating journey well up there with some of the most imaginative dreams to date.

Unfortunately well into the second half of the story everything mentioned previous stalls and leaves the reader wondering if there's a point in finishing the adventure. What's a build up to what could be an exciting bizzaro world of the story's period turns into a grinding reading experience leaving the reader puzzled where Lake lost the magic? The reader is taken from a wonderful fantasy world to a barely juvenile fantasy. Bit of a letdown but willing to take a look at Lakes next novel based on reviews.
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Format: Hardcover
How do you ruin a great short story? Turn it into a novel. Great premise (though not entirely original) that could have really gone somewhere if it had only gotten there sooner. For an author who made his name writing short stories, he really does yammer on in this novel. And the story's mainspring winds down about halfway through.

Lake should have deleted that third quarter of this book and put his energy into crafting a better ending. It wasn't that I didn't understand the ending, it was that I thought the ending was weak and hastily written. He spent long sections dwelling on pointless environmental detail during the adventure, but at the end, he summarizes major plot points in a single sentence.

Clearly it's a fable, probably an Intelligent Design fable... but I think that's just a stylistic choice to get off the hook for the weak logic. He alternates between reveling in his world building skills and describing things in detail, as if to say, "this could really work!" But when he gets too close to serious engineering questions, he leaves that vague and uses God to explain it. That's not Steampunk as some reviewers have said, that's Faithpunk. (Incidentally, anyone who knows anything about mechanical engineering will tell you that the gear he describes for the Earth's rotation would vibrate so horribly that not only would people near it go deaf, but the whole planet would also be shaken apart.)

Jay Lake comes off as very sharp and insightful in interviews. I wonder why there wasn't more of that in this book.
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Format: Hardcover
Mainspring is one of those books that you know is 5 stars within a few pages and the impression never leaves. It puts you in to the story immediately without a boring introduction. Even at the end, which I feel some ambivalence towards (having just finished it an hour ago), I felt I had read a particularly good book worth recommending to others. The book is in its essence a clockpunk heroes journey through a deeply imagined setting. If you have a love for any of the cyberpunk descended genres this book should satisfy you. But unlike most of the punk genres, faith is on the side of the heroes, since the hero is on a journey given to him by the archangel Gabriel. In many instances it is the faith of the hero and his allies that provides for them in crisis.
Much of the story felt like it would have been a masterwork of counter-cultural critique at the height of the British Empire which initially made it feel written too late, but on consideration seemed to apply just as much today to the casual hubris of modern empire. All of this makes the book sort of a slow read as I often felt compelled to think on what I had read rather than to keep reading. Don't mistake this for the book being preachy, it is not, it merely gives the amorphous feeling of meaningfulness and import. This might be due to how well the hero has been characterized. Since his entire journey is full of import and meaning to him, it passes that impression to the reader.
While there are a few tried and true recyclings in the book, most notably the discovery of sex leading to the realization that this is what has all the preachers angry on sunday, the book in the main avoids dully repeating what we have all seen before, even in other genres. It does follow the hero's journey, but Jay lake has definitely flexed his imagination in the execution of it. This book strays pleasantly from the beaten path and ends up being a true pleasure to read.
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