Imaginary Skies Art by Carina Bruce-Kadow

Currently (Re-)Reading: T. Kingfisher’s Clockwork Boys

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So, tomorrow my favourite Author T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon) will have a new book out:  Swordheart. It’s set in the Clockwork Boys universe – and I am so, so looking forward to it. And what’s better to celebrate a new story in my one of my favourite settings than to re-read the first two?

The Cover for Clockwork Boys
I love this book so much, people. Clockwork Boys is great.

Not that I need an excuse, mind you: Clockwork Boys (and the second volume in that duology, The Wonder Engine) easily have been my favourite fantasy books the last two years.

Why I love Clockwork Boys

They’re western fantasy, and they’re some real great examples of what a skilled writer can do with that genre. There’s lots of cookie-cutter clogging classic quest-based fantasy, and Clockwork Boys is everything but that.

T. Kingfisher’s has the strange ability to go from side-splittingly funny to heart-stoppingly creepy in single paragraph, and she uses that to its fullest in these books. There’s laughter, romance, and frightening horror all in the same book and the story is all the better for it.

But the best things are the characters. It’s a pure Dysfunction Junction and it works wonderfully. You have Ursula’s patented down-to-the-ground practical one, of course, but it takes a while until that one show up. And until then you gotta deal with the suicidal convicted forger, the heartless assassin, the inexperienced scholar – and the fallen paladin.

Oh, the fallen paladin. He’s my favourite character in that story. Ursula went on book that she wrote him to “do Paladins right” and well – it worked.  His story quickly becomes about how you can continue after you’ve fucked up EVERYTHING. And stories that handle moral injury like that deftly are kind of rare.

On that note, Ursula’s Paladin Rant is definitely worth reading, if you have a moment. I love me some paladins, but my first exposure to that class were the TBC era bloodelf paladins, and those were clearly a tad on the evil side, with the whole murdering teachers and burning churches thing.

Take-Aways for my own writing

These are two lessons I took to heart from these books.

First, show what a skilled writer can do with contrasting emotions. Laughter makes the horror feel more horrible. Romance means so much more if it’s seasoned with peril. The horror bits in Nyx+Nyssa are directly prompted by Clockwork Boys. It was a bit of a “wait, I could DO that?!” moment. Sometimes I need a good example.

Secondly, it hammered home the importance of making the reader care about the character. The story wouldn’t have worked for me at all if I hadn’t grown attached to Ms. Accountant and Mr. Possessed Paladin in less than a chapter. They might’ve been fine with the idea of walking to their deaths, I very much wasn’t. That’s some real nice narrative tension right there.

Eitherway, Clockwork Boys is great and I really suggest you go read it.

Go pick up Swordheart, too, when it comes out tomorrow. I am really looking forward to that one myself.

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Imaginary Skies Art by Carina Bruce-Kadow