A Steampunk fantasy from Harper Voyager, The Clockwork Dagger is Beth Cato’s first novel in what will be a series in this universe. I was a little wary when I noticed that it was not only Ms. Cato’s first novel, but was 354 pages long. (Sorry, but all sorts of red flags go up in my head when I see long page counts on first books.) Fortunately, Ms. Cato knows what she’s doing, as I quickly got caught up in the very rich and descriptive world she has created.
A medician’s work is never done . . . at least for Miss Octavia Leander who finds her journey from Miss Percival’s school to her new position, where she will tend to the sick and injured in the small village of Delford. Now, a medician is similar to a doctor, but in this case her abilities are not only grounded in the knowledge of herbs, but magic and a strong orthodox belief and connection to a force of nature called The Lady. Octavia has more magical abilities than anyone has seen in a long time, if ever, which makes her a target for kidnapping or assassination. But, who is trying to kill her? Her own government of Caskentia or their arch enemy, The Wastes?
On her journey she is helped by one Alonzo Garrett, who bears the physical and psychological scars of war and family heritage. Octavia is at first mistrustful of him, and pretty much everyone else, except for the mysterious Miss Percival who first sent her on this long and dangerous journey. As with any good story, her trust of him ebbs and flows depending on the conflict and misunderstanding. When Octavia discovers that a Clockwork Dagger is in their midst, she realizes the stakes are much higher than she ever realized. Noted for their strength, agility, and intelligence, Clockwork Daggers are agents of Caskentia who are trained as spies and/or assassins and track their prey relentlessly. To complicate matters, she befriends a middle-aged woman by the name of Mrs. Stout, who has her own secrets to keep.
Their journey together reveals that betrayal comes in many forms and trust is hard earned.
I found the novel to be very well written, and Ms. Cato has taken very special care in developing her universe and her characters. We dive right into the story, where we see Octavia go to work in a rather obvious choice to make her sympathetic; she saves a puppy. But, even that warm, fuzzy moment is turned on its head, so we understand the world in which she lives.
Though this is primarily a fantasy novel which works in Steampunk elements as part of their world, I did not have a problem with it. I know some hardline Steampunk fans who demand that Steampunk stories be technologically driven, but I disagree. This book is world driven, where the characters and any tech play a secondary role, though I did find them interesting and enjoyable. Magic is the thread that holds this world together, even if the general populace doesn’t realize it.
A few quibbles . . . we were not introduced to “The Clockwork Dagger” until pretty far into the book, so I was wondering for quite a while when we would see him or her in action. We did eventually, but it seemed to take a backseat to our healer protagonist, unless she herself becomes one in future books. The other thing was that it ran a little overlong. We really didn’t need the last chapter. I thought the book ended nicely on the second to last chapter and left it open-ended enough for the next book. I suspect that was an editorial decision.
But, these are small things in an otherwise very fine job. I look forward to reading more in the series.
*I was given this as an eBook for a fair and honest review.