Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Escapement, by Jay Lake, opens two years after the events of the previous book in the series, Mainspring, took place. However, Escapement is not a direct sequel to that book. Hethor's are certainly known, and some of the individuals he dealt with, such as librarian Childress, make a return, but Lake is more interested in following new characters as they adventure and explore across the strange clockwork world he has created.
While Mainspring focused on young Hethor Jacques, Escapement allows Lake to play with three different points of view, and look at separate parts of his world. Paolina Barthes is a young girl who lives along the Wall, the massive barrier that runs along the Earth's equator, on top of which the clockwork that keeps the universe in motion exists. Already feeling like an outsider in her small village, her life is thrown into further turmoil when a young boy, a refugee from the Basset in Mainspring appears and gives her a broken stemwinder watch. Inspired by the gift, and desiring to find the wizards of England who could make such a majestic thing, Paolina leaves her village behind.
Threadgill Angus al-Wazir, former chief petty officer aboard the Basset has managed to make it back to England, where Prime Minister David Lloyd George immediately taps him to return on an exploration to the Wall in the company of the dictatorial scientist Lothar Ottweill. Their mission, which al-Wazir doesn't entirely support as an individual, but as an officer vows to see successful, is to bore a hole through the equatorial Wall to ensure that the English can achieve a foothold in the Southern hemisphere in order to be able to stand up to the Chinese superpower.
Finally, Emily Childress, the librarian of Day Missions Library at the Berkeley School of Divinity at Yale University is torn away from her post. Childress set the events of Mainspring in motion when she helped put Hethor Jacques in touch with the secret society of the White Birds. Now that organization, the avebianco, has decided it has need of Childress in a different place. En route to what will eventually be her trial for the unforeseen consequences of her earlier actions, Childress's ship is attacked by the Chinese and she is mistaken for a much more important member of the avebianco, the Mask Poinsard.
The freedom of three main characters allows Lake to show of a much broader swath of his world. Each of the three has a different outlook on life and it is easy to see that each would have reacted to events in a different manner. Barthes would not have handled her kidnapping by the Chinese in the same way as Childress does, and Childress, would have had a very different reaction to Boaz, the man of brass, than Barthes does. These characters form one of the strongest points in Lake's novel, making the book much more than a travelogue of a strange and impossible Earth.
Although Lake's world works like clockwork, the pacing isn't quite as consistent. Periods of exposition and travel compete with action throughout when they should, perhaps, mesh more thoroughly over the course of the book. Lake is constantly introducing wonders into his book, but the pacing, as the book draws inexorably to its...not quite...conclusion means that Lake and his characters don't always have the time to fully explore those wonders, although leaving them to the reader's imagination quite possibly makes them more fantastic than any description Lake could have achieved.
In the end, Escapement sets up the third novel in a trilogy. In many ways, it shares its position with George Lucas's The Empire Strikes Back. The first work in each trilogy (Star Wars and Mainspring) could easily have stood on their own. The central piece was clearly written with the knowledge that it would be followed by a third work, and therefore allowed the demiurge, the watchmaker, if you like, to tackle a more complex story. With Escapement, it waits for the publication of the third volume to see how successfully Lake tackles his story.
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