Review of ‘Clockwork Angels’ by Kevin J. Anderson

Clockwork Angels is a novel by Kevin J. Anderson based on a concept album by Canadian rock legends Rush, created primarily by their drummer Neil Peart. It is a retelling of one of the great fantasy archetypes, of the young man who leaves home seeking adventure only to find more than he bargained for. A fantastic and interesting setting, with identifiable characters and believable dialogue alongside a coming-of-age story that breathes new life into the old archetype. Thoroughly enjoyable throughout.

A remarkable collaboration that is unprecedented in its scope and realization, this exquisitely wrought novel represents an artistic project between the bestselling science fiction author Kevin J. Anderson and the multiplatinum rock band Rush.

The newest album by Rush, Clockwork Angels, sets forth a story in Neil Peart’s lyrics that has been expanded by him and Anderson into this epic novel. In a young man’s quest to follow his dreams, he is caught between the grandiose forces of order and chaos. He travels across a lavish and colorful world of steampunk and alchemy with lost cities, pirates, anarchists, exotic carnivals, and a rigid Watchmaker who imposes precision on every aspect of daily life. The mind-bending story is complemented with rich paintings by the five-time Juno Award winner for Best Album Design, Hugh Syme.

So obviously the first thing that warrants mention about this book is its place alongside the album of the same name by Rush. For those of you who don’t know (probably most of you) I’m both Canadian and a drummer, so Rush is a band I’ve had in my awareness for pretty much my entire life. Neil Peart is one of the greatest drummers of all time, so when I saw the listing for this ARC as ‘From a story and lyrics by Neil Peart’ I was right in there. Multimedia creations aren’t by any means a new phenomena though they remain pretty rare in speculative fiction, and being able to listen to this album (which I’m also doing as I write this review) before and after reading the book really added something to the experience. I know this is a review of the book and not the album, but a well put-together concept album is also pretty rare these days, let alone one by such tremendous musicians.

Now that that’s out of the way, onto the equally excellent novel! I enjoy seeing an author that is willing to grapple with an old archetype. I was leery when it first became apparent that this was ‘just another’ coming-of-age story where the boy from the little farm village craves adventure and then finds out that the wide world is actually a scary place. I’d say I was pleasantly surprised, but I really should have known better from Anderson. Owen Hardy from Barrel Arbor is not your typical fantasy farmboy. Despite his youth, Owen thinks. He has a few of the typical ‘Oh wow the city is so big!’ moments, but he becomes disenfranchised with the shine on things pretty quickly, and actually questions those around him in a way your usual coming-of-age protagonist doesn’t until the third act after the inevitable tragedy or betrayal. It made Owen a much more relatable and realistic character.

The main theme of Clockwork Angels is the dichotomy of chaos and order, and the whole novel is really an argument for why both extremes are harmful for their own reasons. Owen lives in a place called ‘The Stability’ which is run by ‘The Watchmaker’. The official motto of this entire culture is ‘Everything has its place, and every place has its thing.’ It is this unquestioned and rigid order that Owen rebels against, and counter to this impulse there is a man treated essentially as a terrorist called ‘The Anarchist’ who obviously opposes the order of The Watchmaker. The fact that both of these figures view Owen as a proxy battlefield for their ideologies creates a lot of the tension and conflict for the story. Watching Owen deal with these forces pushing on him from the outside, driving him to make a choice between order and chaos was excellently rendered and told.

This was the kind of clever take on an old yarn that put me in mind, in several points, of Stardust by Neil Gaiman, and it definitely takes its place among the better coming-of-age stories I’ve read. The fact that it comes equipped with its own wicked soundtrack accompaniment is just the icing on the cake. I definitely suggest, if you pick up this book and enjoy it, that you check out the Rush album as well.

Dan Received a copy of this book as an ARC from ECW Press Via Net.Galley

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Author: Dan Ruffolo

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