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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars First in a fascinating SF series, the "Clockwork Empire", 13 Aug 2012
Marshall Lord (Whitehaven, UK) - See all my reviews
"The Doomsday Vault" is the first novel of an extraordinary new series set in an alternative Victorian age where a disease called "The clockwork plague" has brought both death and terror on an enormous scale and massive technological advances.

The series as published to date or coming out shortly consists of

1) This book, "The Doomsday Vault"
2) The Impossible Cube (Clockwork Empire Novels)
3) The Dragon Men: A Novel of the Clockwork Empire (due for publication late 2012)
4) The Havoc Machine: A Novel of the Clockwork Empire (due out in 2013)

As "The Doomsday Vault" opens Queen Victoria has been on the throne for about 20 years, so the date appears to be around 1857. (William IV had succeeded George IV in 1830, the same year as in our history, so Victoria must presumably have succeeded William in turn at about the same time as she did in real history e.g. about 1837.)

In the world of the Clockwork Empire, history up to about the time of the Napoleonic Wars was the same as in our world, but then all the countries of the world have been affected by an illness known as the "clockwork plague." 90% of people who contract it simply die, which is what had happened to the mother, brother, and fiance of the heroine of this book, The Honorable Alice Michaels. Many of the rest become "zombies" - not actually undead but ghastly shadows of their former selves who have lost the power of speech and higher rational functions and are gradually rotting away. They are extremely dangerous because their least touch can spread the plague. A small number of plague victims survive with their minds intact but may be crippled, which is what happened to Alice's father, Baron Michaels.

A much smaller proportion of those who catch the plague become, for for the brief time left to them, insane geniuses known as "clockworkers" and from their unbalanced minds flow inventions far in advance of what you might reasonably expect from 19th century science. Charles Babbage, having become a clockworker, perfected clockwork driven computers which provide the brains of the android servants which are now a vital part of Britain's economy. Other clockworkers have provided the technology for successful dirigible airships and other devices which make the technology of this mid-19th century world equal or even superior in some ways to that of the 21st century. But the deaths caused by the plague and the impact of these new inventions has caused a great deal of social upheaval. Some of the effects are good - for example, more equal rights for women have are a century ahead of where they were in our history though this is still controversial with the die-hards of both sexes - others much less so. The world of the Clockwork Empire is a strange and dangerous one.

Alice Michaels' family face social and economic ruin, as society regards them as unlucky because of their losses to the plague. Alice has one last chance to rescue her family fortunes with an advantageous marriage, when she learns that her aunt has disappeared, leaving her a dangerous legacy. Meanwhile Gavin Ennock, a young American boy who is a crew member on an American airship, faces first attack by air pirates, then kidnap, before events throw him and Alice together.

Alice and Gavin attract the attention of the "Third Ward," a powerful government agency which tries to use the inventions of the clockworkers for the good of the Empire. This agency has dangerous secrets - and in more than one way, Alice and Gavin may have difficult decisions to make about where their loyalties lie ...

An extremely exciting book with some brilliant worldbuilding and many plot twists some of which are likely to take you by surprise. I can recommend this book and am looking forward to reading the rest of the series.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nice!, 22 Jan 2012
Detra Fitch (USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Doomsday Vault, The (The Clockwork Empire) (Mass Market Paperback)
Set in London. (Seems to be the Regency Era.) After the plague. Before the secret at the end of the world.

The Honorable Alice Michaels is caring for her dying father, Arthur, Baron Michaels. They are basically penniless and, as the daughter of a baron, it is socially forbidden for Alice to find paying work, no matter how many useful skills she has. Most of her family died from the clockwork plague, so Alice is not considered to be a good choice for one to wed. At the age of twenty-one, Alice has an unladylike interest in automatons. Alice is surrounded by little automatons that she has assembled. (Her interest in engineering is another unladylike habit.) The automatons had arrived in pieces for Alice to assemble from Aunt Edwina over the last five years. Alice's companion (and favorite automaton) is Click, her clockwork cat.

People are used to seeing plague zombies stumbling around, especially at night. Zombies are to be avoided at all costs. One touch from a zombie can pass the plague. Every so often, perhaps one time in a hundred thousand, the plague did not destroy the brain. Instead, it makes the brain work with a wondrous efficiency. Mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry - even some forms of art - become mere toys to these rare and particular plague victims. The geniuses are called "clockworkers". They create amazing inventions, many of which defy universal laws. Clockworkers create with great glee and do not think about repercussions. This is why a clandestine organization, the Third Ward, searches them out, gives these geniuses a place to create their gadgets, and keeps their work in check. Of course, all the inventions are harvested to serve the Empire. (England rules most of the known world.)

High above the earth, Gavin Ennock works on an American airship. After an attack by privateers, he finds himself stranded in London. Gavin has a rare musical talent and uses it to survive. Without warning, Gavin is kidnapped and is trapped in a tower for two weeks. This is when he is rescued by Alice and Click.

When Aunt Edwina disappears, Alice inherits her estate. The house is full of deadly traps. While rescuing Gavin from its tower room, Alice finds one last gift from her aunt, a clockwork valet named Kemp. Alice's inheritance attracts the attention of the Third Ward. The organization is very interested in Edwina. They also want to recruit Gavin, for his astounding musical talent, and Alice, for her multiple talents. But the Third Ward has its own dark secrets. When Alice and Gavin discover them, a choice must be made between the world and the Empire, no matter the risk to all they hold dear.

***** FIVE STARS! There is more going on in this story than I reveal in my synopsis, but to tell more may reveal spoilers. Click, the clockwork cat, has abilities in which Alice is unaware. The author managed to throw me a curve ball more than once with this sleek feline. As for Kemp, this manservant reminds me A LOT of C3PO, from the "Star Wars" saga. Often I would find myself amused by the human emotions these two automatons seem to mimic. The only thing about the story that grates on my nerves is the amount of times Alice decides to join the Ward, only to change her mind and back out. For someone so intelligent, this was a little unbelievable for me to accept.

To me, this story is some kind of mash-up between Science Fiction, Fantasy, and with a healthy dose of Regency Romance injected within. Loose strings are left for continuation in the next title, The Impossible Cube: A Novel of the Clockwork Empire (May 2012). This is a well written tale with a solid foundation upon which the author may build. The potential for this series is vast. And though I have never read a story by this author before, I can easily see that Steven Harper has an extraordinary writing talent and his characters, human or not, are all addictive as sin. An eclectic story that I cannot recommend highly enough. *****
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Doomsday Vault, The (The Clockwork Empire)
Doomsday Vault, The (The Clockwork Empire) by Steven Harper (Mass Market Paperback - 19 Jan 2012)
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