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Mainspring (Clockwork Earth) Hardcover – June 12, 2007

3.0 out of 5 stars 59 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 (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #663,553 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Tom Dullemond on November 2, 2007
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: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
I wanted to like Mainspring, I really did. The description of the story sounded interesting and the set up of the world intrigued me, but those two factors alone could not save this poorly writen tale.

Lets start with the main character, Hethor, I'm not sure that Jay Lake could decide how old he wanted his protaganist to be. At times (most of the book) Hethor acts like a child, throwing temper tantrums and displaying a complete lack of knowledge ways of the world, yet later in the book we find out that Hethor is old enough to shave like an adult. Also, all of the supporting characters treat Hethor like a child yet expect him to do things that only an adult should be doing. Oh, and while I am on the subject of Hethor, somehow he gets a mysterious power right at the end of the novel that he only uses once, has obviously never used before, yet has a complete understanding of it. I guess what it really boils down too for me when it comes to Hethor is that he is the most boring and most lack-luster character I have ever read about.

Oh yeah, and while I am thinking about, there is also a completely disgusting sex scene in the book between Hethor and his love intrest who is basicly an intelegent ape-like humaniod. Yeah, it was not cool, it almost made me vomit. I think Jay Lake was trying to write out some sick sexual fantasy of his but it was just disturbing.

Also, the way that this book is put together it feels like Jay Lake wrote a bunch of independant short stories that had nothing to do with each other and then he tried to mesh them together into a coherant full length novel. Because of this the story feels completely disjointed and not very well thought out. But you know what, I think i am just going to stop...
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
I SOOO wanted to like this book. I still do love the premise - so much so that I may just borrow it and try to write a story of my own around it.

Though many other reviewers have already explained the plot, I'll briefly reiterate: Mainspring takes place in a universe where God's hand in Creation is a little more obvious than in our universe. The celestial bodies are all part of a giant clockwork mechanism carried through space on rings of brass. The spring which keeps the Earth moving as it should needs to be rewound. If it is not, the Earth will stop and all sorts of bad things will happen. One night the angel Gabriel shows up in the bedroom of Hethor Jacques. Gabriel explains that Hethor must find a special key, and rewind the Earth's mainspring.

The book contains two of my favorite subjects, a steampunk setting, and positive Christian themes. How could it not be good? Unfortunately I did not like the book. In fact I disliked it more than any book I've read in a long time. The problem with Mainspring is quite simply either the author, the editor, or both.

The story is choppy, as if most scenes/sections were written separately and then forced together in an attempt to create a longer story.


Characters are frequently motivated to action by knowledge that they don't/shouldn't have. This is because either they do not in fact have said knowledge, or because the author left out chunks of plot. Here are a few examples:

Early in the story, Hethor is falsely accused, by the son of his master (Hethor is a clock maker's apprentice), of stealing a silver feather. The accusation is made in order to discredit Hethor.
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