Review: A Clockwork Heart by Liesel Schwarz

Thursday, July 2, 2015
Title: A Clockwork Heart
Author: Lisesel Schwarz
Genre: steampunk, supernatural, historical fiction, young adult
Series: The Chronicles of Light and Shadow #2
Pages: 305
Published: August 13 2013
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 2/5

FOR BETTER OR CURSE. That might as well have been the wedding vow of Elle Chance and her new husband, the ex-Warlock Hugh Marsh in the second book of this edgy new series that transforms elements of urban fantasy, historical adventure, and paranormal romance into storytelling magic.

As Elle devotes herself to her duties as the Oracle—who alone has the power to keep the dark designs of Shadow at bay—Marsh finds himself missing the excitement of his former life as a Warlock. So when Commissioner Willoughby of the London Metropolitan police seeks his help in solving a magical mystery, Marsh is only too happy to oblige. But in doing so, Marsh loses his heart . . . literally.

In place of the flesh-and-blood organ is a clockwork device—a device that makes Marsh a kind of zombie. Nor is he the only one. A plague of clockwork zombies is afflicting London, sowing panic and whispers of revolution. Now Elle must join forces with her husband’s old friend, the Nightwalker Loisa Beladodia, to track down Marsh’s heart and restore it to his chest before time runs out.

This was a disappointment. For me, it turned out to be a tough slough for little reward. After being pretty enchanted with the first book in the series, A Conspiracy of Alchemists, no one is more surprised by my near complete antipathy for its successor than me. I wanted to love it. I tried to love it, honestly. I gave it multiple chapters, hundreds of pages, and a lot of frustration. Somehow, a three-hundred page novel felt like an 800-page behemoth. There are a couple unexpected twists that livened things up a bit, but for the most part, I read A Clockwork Heart feeling bored, annoyed, or anxious to be finally finished.

In a lot of ways, disappointed reviews are the hardest to write. With books that piss em off, it's easy to jump on the computer and rant away. With books that I love, it's fun to try to explain just what made that particular novel such a hit with me. If I am disappointed, all I can really say is there was a lot of potential for something greater than is and it was utterly ignored. So much of what was written felt bloated, superficial, and a much weaker effort than previous. The pace that rocketed the first from beginning to end is largely absent and its lack is very noticeable. If you're going to eschew action for character development, those characters had better be able to bear the closer scrutiny. Hint: these ones can't.

I thought Elle had grown into a better person and character at the end of book one, but that assumption is soon shown to be in error. She is just as selfish, immature as ever --- especially when she is around her new husband. All I can say is poor Marsh.  He is far from perfect (1900's English Noble husband? Ugh.) But this is a guy who has supported her, saved her, loved her, helped her, forgiven her, given up one of the most important parts of his life to do those things... and all she can do is resent the fact that she is a wife. I am sorry --- but you signed on for this when you willingly MARRIED THE GUY. A little maturity is apparently too much to ask for with Elle Chance. There's also little consistency to be found in either main character -- they flit from one persona to the next, depending on the author's need for drama.

Clothide, the villain, was the most interesting of the bunch. I know I am not supposed to root for the bad guy, but the woman in white vastly outstripped her counterparts in both personality and agency. Her agenda might be confusing to someone outside of Supernatural fandom (Remember the pilot episode -- the woman in white? Yeaaaah) and that should have been rectified. As for her clockwork zombies...well, they were inventive. And the other half the reason that this merited two stars. I am not sure how losing your heart renders you dead (heart transplants, anyone?), but these creations are weird and new.

I am not sure if my future holds a reading of Sky Pirates, the third in the series. I was pretty underwhelmed by a lot of  what A Clockwork Heart had to offer, but the first was a truly fun steampunk/supernatural/historical fiction adventure. Schwarz is one for two right now, but only time will tell if she can get her series back on the right track.

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