RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: His Clockwork Canary by Beth Ciotta


Title: His Clockwork Canary
Author: Beth Ciotta
Publication Info: Signet June 2013
ISBN: 978-0451239990
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Book His Clockwork Canary This RITA® Reader Challenge 2014 review was written by Beth K. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Paranormal Romance category.

The summary:

History is repeating itself.

For ambitious engineer Simon Darcy, winning Queen Victoria’s competition to recover lost inventions of historical significance is a matter of pride—and redemption. After all, it was Simon’s failed monorail project that left his family destitute, and winning the tournament would surely restore the Darcys’ reputation.

Simon sets his sights high, targeting no less than the infamous time-travel device that forever changed the world by transporting scientists, engineers, and artists from the twentieth century. The Mod technology was banned and supposedly destroyed, but Simon is sure he can re-create it.

His daring plan draws the attention of Willie G., the Clockwork Canary, London’s sensationalist reporter. Simon soon discovers that Willie is a male guise for Wilhemina Goodenough, the love of his youth, who left him jilted and bitter. He questions her motives even as he falls prey to her unique charm. As the attraction between the two reignites, Simon realizes that this vixen from his past has secrets that could be the key to his future…as long as he can put their history behind him.

And here is Beth K.'s review:

I’m new to Beth Ciotta, and I’ve not read the prior books in this series (yet, because I’m totally going to).  His Clockwork Canary is strong steampunk.  It’s such an interesting genre, and there are so many tactics an author can take.  An author can steep him or herself in the formality and structure of the Victorian period but with a twist (see Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series), or have more fun with the worldwide possibilities of altered history (try Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas).  The challenge is overcoming the fear of something different that can keep readers from getting fully immersed in the world building.  Ciotta has a large spectrum with which to entice, and for those new to the genre, she eases the reader into her world.  She takes advantage of steampunk’s flexibility with a unique mixture of time travel, hippies, intrigue, and nefarious fellow named Strangelove to name a few.  Cheese and crackers, this is good stuff!

Ciotta has wrought a vivid world, with well-timed descriptions and info drops.  She, fortunately, allows us to infer from our own knowledge of those time periods rather than beat us over the head with detail.  I was interrupted while reading this multiple, multiple times (thank you, toddler, who can still be heard yelling for me long after bedtime, and babies who think the bouncy seats are toilets), and it was in no way difficult to pick up the story line and keep track of the characters.  If I did need refreshing, Ciotta provides a quick intro to the world and a glossary of vernacular for the Glorious Victorious Darcys (which helped prep me for reading the books out of sequence).  Halfway through I purchased the other books in the series.  I can imagine binging on this author as easily as the three pounds of cherries in front of me (What? I like fruit).  The books in this series (in order, Her Sky Cowboy, His Broken Angel, His Clockwork Canary) seem to be along the same timeline, and the action stems from a contest to present Queen Victoria with an artifact of historical significance.

Simon has mixed motivations for winning the competition, so I can half-applaud his endeavors.  He’s a little too caught up in the glory hound aspect for me to fully appreciate him right off.  But he does prove himself to be a loving son, brother, and partner.  Like Willie, I felt I had to apologize to him for my harsh judgment.  Willie is reminiscent of suffragettes, except she is using her position as a (male) reporter to finesse a “Freak rebellion.”  She is stubborn and used to being entirely dependent on herself, and I enjoyed seeing her trust in Simon develop.  I liked being privy to the secret of her identity when Simon first becomes aware of her.  I must mention, whether intentional or not, that Ciotta really induced a visceral reaction by making “freak” a proper noun, and made me that much more aware of how Willie must feel.  Tension is steady as they race to procure a worthy artifact, and as Willie struggles with how to reveal and remedy her association with Strangelove.

Really, the only negative is a bit of repetition as we hear Willie lament Simon’s “betrayal” again and again without any illumination on the specifics, and this is only at the outset of the novel.  And I guess that we have to wait for more books in the series.  The following statements may be considered spoilers: I applaud Ciotta for introducing two adult characters who act like adults.  Gasp!  Did this ruin the book?!  Simon and Willie discuss their problems and try to work through the conflict in true partner fashion, and they grow individually.  Not too quickly, though, making it a realistic merger of minds.  Willie comes clean to Simon before the end of the novel, and I experienced true relief that Ciotta avoided the overdone “bad guy reveals good character’s duplicity necessitating stomping off by wounded party.”  Thank you, Mrs. Ciotta.

I award His Clockwork Canary an A and hereby introduce Beth Ciotta to my autobuy list.  I’m now impatient for Jules’ story and cannot wait to see how this series winds up (bad um cha).

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