Jay Lake is the winner of the 2004 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. He is the author of more than 100 short stories and has been nominated for the Hugo Award and the World Fantasy Award. He lives in Portland, Oregon.
“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 still turns on God’s great brass gears of Heaven as it makes its orderly passage around the Lamp of the Sun from Midnight to Midnight and Year to Year.
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, van find the Key Perilous to rewind the Mainspring of Earth. If he does not, the planet will wind down and live will cease.”
In Mainspring, Hethor Jacques, a Clockmaker’s apprentice is visited by the Archangel Gabriel and charged with an quest… He must rewind the Mainspring of Earth before time runs out and the world will stop. In order to achieve his goal Hethor must find the Key Perilous, the only key that can be used on the Mainspring. When Hethor enquires about the Key Perilous in New Haven he is not taken serious and an argument between the son of the Clockmaker and Hethor forces him to leave and find new allies. Hethor’s quest to find information about the Key Perilous leads him to Boston, where he is imprisoned and forced to join the crew of the Basset, a mighty airship, which will hopefully lead him to the Key Perilous.
Mainspring is the first steampunk novel that I have read although I have always loved the concept. I have the feeling that books within this genre are either really good or really really bad… fortunately Jay Lake’s Mainspring proved to be the former!
The universe that Lake has created in Mainspring, an alternate 19th century, is just marvelous and original (I cannot compare it with other steampunk-themed novels I do not have any references), I never would have thought of this idea. In Mainspring the Earth is powered by a system just like a giant clock, with gears, lever and sprockets all included. There are also religious references in the book which make God the Clockmaker of the earth, and several paragraphs in the book feature a short Bible phrase which Lake has converted to fit into his ingeniously created world. As the story progresses there are also alternate views, by other characters in the book, who throw away the hypothesis of God the Clockmaker and impose different ones. These different views really make you think twice about all that happened in the book.
The story in Mainspring has a nice steady pace, with just enough action to keep you happily reading. There is just the one storyline, told through the eyes of Hethor, the Clockmakers apprentice, but I think, if there were more adventurers added to his party things could have been livelier. The whole story revolves around the rewinding of the Mainspring and I, personally, would have liked it to have been more a race against time, in which the effects of this slowing down of the Earth would become apparent.
All in all, Mainspring has a marvelous and highly original world, and the story was great to read. Lake has a good writing style that really involve you in the novel. An original blend of science fiction and fantasy set in an alternate 19th century Earth.