Jay Lake’s Mainspring is a book I had been eying for a while. The premise, though not completely original, managed to intrigue me and so I went ahead and acquired a copy. Mainspring, published in 2007 is the first in a trilogy for which the final entry, Pinion, was released last March. As well as being a very strong beginning to a series, the novel also features a fascinating blend of alternate history, steampunk, sci-fi and, yes, magic. Mainspring didn't quite let me down…
Her Imperial Majesty Queen Victoria still rules New England and her American Possessions; the Royal Navy rules the skies with its mighty Airships; and Earth stills turns around God’s great brass gears of Heaven as it makes its orderly passage around the Lamp of the Sum from Midnight to Midnight and Year to Year.Without a doubt Mainspring is a fast novel. Lake throws the reader straight into the thick of it. Though the chapters are relatively long, the inner-chapter divisions work well to accelerate the pace. There is quite a lot to get through plot-wise in this book and Lake almost masterfully carries us along with very little pause or down-time to recuperate from what is a dense story. Though this is an epic, Lake has chosen to restrict the point of view to Hethor, the protagonist, instead of adopting the multiple view-points approach.
In the town of New Haven, a Clockmaker’s young apprentice is visited at midnight by a brass Angel, and told that he, and he alone, can find the Key Perilous to rewind the Mainspring of Earth. If he does not, the planet will wind down, and life will cease.
As I’ve mentioned, in terms of the story, the reader is served with quite a dense read not to mention a mix of many different things. The “England still controls America” story has already been told more than once, yet in Mainspring that particular world-building element does not at all take center stage. Instead, an element which I particularly enjoyed does: a steampunkly-revamped religion. This is where most of Lake’s originality goes. The concept is amazing and how he uses it brings some freshness to the novel and makes for a stunning plot-line.
Lake however, does not develop his characters as much as one might hope. Hethor is good character but he does fall neatly into the category of your typical out-of-the-streets-to-world-savior protagonist. As fine a character Hethor remains, what kept me reading is the intrigue and not the characters. That may due in part to the inconsistency in their personalities and how they grow. It is, for example, very hard to imagine the beginning of the book Hethor doing what he does in the end. And I know that this is supposed to happen but in Mainspring this change from being nobody to hero is almost too much to believe, even in a sci-fi environment.
I am still not too sure what to make of Mainspring. It’s a fast and engaging start to a trilogy yet at the same time as a reader I had a bit of a difficult time engaging with it. For now it will go in the Okay Books section. The usual fans of this genre, though, will find Jay Lake’s book to be a very accessible and highly pleasant read. Look for my review of the sequel, Escapement, whenever I get to it, as well as that of Pinion, even further down the line from now. Also, if you are interested, be sure to check out some of Jay Lake’s other books, among them the standalone, Green, and a multitude of short stories.
My Rating: 3 out of 5
Reading Age: 15 and up
Jay Lake's website: http://www.jlake.com/