The first book in the Clockwork Empire steampunk trilogy.

Publication year: 2011
Format: print
Page count: 391
Publisher: Roc

Miss Alice Michaels is 22 and still unmarried. Her fiancee, mother and brother have died of the clockwork plague and her father is severely ill. Because Alice’s father is a Baron, she can’t get a job and the only thing she’s good at is making and repairing mechanical automations, which (is another thing) women aren’t supposed to do. She has managed to get an invitation to Greenfellow’s ball which is her last chance of catching a wealthy husband and keeping up appearances. At first, she despairs when it’s clear that everyone shuns her. However, she befriends Louisa Creek, a woman who takes full advantage of her position as a heiress, and she meets Norbert Williamson, a wealthy industrialist who is very interested in her. On the way back from the ball, zombies attack her carriage and she’s saved by a group of people calling themselves the Third Ward. Even though the police has given up on fighting the zombies, because they don’t want to get infected, these people fight the zombies. Alice helps them and wishes briefly that she could join them. However, her father is ill and has a lot of debts, so her only choice, in the eyes of the society and herself, is to catch on wealthy husband.

Gavin Ennock is a cabin boy on the airship Juniper. He’s been a cabin boy for years and knows airships inside out, but he can’t become a full airman until on his 18th birthday, which is in just a few days. Unfortunately, the Juniper is attacked by air pirates. The crew is killed and the only thing that saves Gavin is his skill with the violin. He’s also an excellent singer and has perfect pitch. Eventually, he manages to escape but he’s lost his job and has to suddenly support himself in the streets of London. He’s from a poor family who lives in Boston.

Alice and Gavin are quite different. Not only are they of different status in the eyes of society but they’ve also been taught different things about themselves. Alice has known all her life that her only worth in through marriage and that she’s interested in the wrong things because of her gender. So, she has learned to lie and keep her real feelings a secret. Her duty is towards her father. Gavin has worked hard to achieve was he really wants and his duty is to the airship and the crew. He has no reason to lie. Their outlooks on life are quite different.

Because Alice has such a strong sense of duty towards her father and towards their place in society, she isn’t eager to head into adventure and an uncommon lifestyle. Because many of Britain’s men have died because of the plague, women have had to step up. Women who were married to members of the Parliament, who became ill, voted in place of their husbands. Women even got suffrage but still the society at large looks down on women who use their right to vote. They are called Ad Hoc women and Alice’s conservative father is strongly against them. So, for most of the novel, Alice waffles between her duty and her desire for a more exciting and meaningful life. Some readers most likely find that boring but I found it realistic.

The world is quite interesting. The whole world is suffering from the clockwork plague which makes people sick. The sick people are contagious so others avoid them. The sick people also seem to have a need to infect others, so they attack the healthy ones. They are sensitive to sunlight and are called zombies. However, some rare people don’t become zombies but clockworkers: they are geniuses in their own field but inevitably they will become mad and die in a few years.

The Third Ward is a shadowy organization whose purpose is to corral the clockworkers. The Ward gives the clockworkers a safe place to work in and also keep them from the general public, keep the other people safe. The Doomsday Vault is the place where they keep all of the inventions which are way too dangerous to ever use.

The clockworkers and the plague affect every country. In India, for example, the clockworkers are stoned alive which in China they are revered and given materials to work. That’s why China has advanced inventions which might make them the strongest country in the world some day.

The Doomsday Vault is an entertaining book. I even enoyed the inevitable romance.