The Clockwork Fairy Kingdom was written by Leah Cutter and first published in 2012 under its original title of Clockwork Kingdom. It is a fantasy story about twin teenagers discovering a kingdom of steampunk faeries. The novel forms the first part of The Clockwork Fairy Trilogy and is followed by The Maker, The Teacher and The Monster (2014). The final part of the series has yet to be announced.
Although they are siblings, Nora and Dale are very different. While Nora is artistic and able to make creative things from nothing, Dale takes a more orderly approach to his craft. He is naturally gifted when it comes to machines and is quickly able to understand and repair clockwork mechanisms, even when he has never seen them before. It is his ability that captures the attention of the faeries.
Hidden within the cliffs near their home, Queen Adele’s kingdom is falling to disrepair. Her husband had been trying to build a machine capable of crippling electronics so that the faeries could retake the surface world but, following his death, Adele found that no other faeries could complete the project. Now, rival royals are plotting to take her throne and her only hope is to find someone who can help her repair the device.
After Adele learns of Dale’s talents, she finds that he is very easy to enthral. His fascination with faerie’s intricate mechanisms leaves him susceptible to her binding spells and glamours. Slowly, the human world loses all interest to Dale as he gradually spends more time in the faerie kingdom. It is up to Nora to harness her latent magical powers to save him, before he is lost to Adele forever.
The Clockwork Fairy Kingdom is one of those novels that I struggle to review, because my feelings about it are so very mixed. I suppose it’s best to start out with what I liked about the story. I immensely enjoyed the parts of this novel that concerned the faeries. As a fantasy race, faeries are often difficult to make interesting. The image of tiny people with butterfly wings is hard to shrug off and so they can be hard to take seriously. In granting her faeries steampunk technology, Cutter makes them very unique and memorable. The picture that she paints of their society was my favourite part of this novel.
I loved the little details. The faeries are divided into a strict hierarchy and they all embrace technology in different ways. The royal caste have embraced some aspects of human technology and begun working scavenged bits of plastic and other rubbish into their traditional attire, while the warriors are more like barbarians – wearing little but modifying their bodies with clockwork parts. The novel also strongly indicates a social divide between these two factions, with the nobles looking down on the warriors – viewing them as being inferior and somewhat primitive.
Although the novel does not really focus on these aspects, they do help to add some depth to the faerie race. It’s a common issue in fantasy novels that a race becomes recognisable by one characteristic (e.g. all elves are stuck-up) but Cutter avoids this by having her faeries riddled with internal conflicts and social divides which in turn makes them feel realistic. The only real problem for me was here was that she just didn’t quite flesh them out enough.
While Cutter’s world building seemed impressive on the surface, its unique characteristics hid a lack of detail. There steampunk elements do not seem to have much impact on the faerie culture. Beyond the machine and Adele’s clockwork wings, there is never really a sense that the technology is used by the faeries in their everyday life. Further to this, their machines all seem to be run by magic instead of other power source. For me, this just felt a little clunky. If the faeries just used their magic to power the machines, why have the machines at all? What possible purpose did it serve? They certainly weren’t being used to repair the kingdom as the novel shows that Adele is using her glamour to hide the extent of its decay. Based on the title, I had hoped for better integration of the steampunk elements into the story and so I was left disappointed by its execution.
The novel also had some issues in terms of structure. While I did enjoy the primary plot about Dale and the faeries, this was just one of many. The story actually had a few different intertwining storylines – the revenge of Kostya the dwarf, Nora and Dale’s mother having health problems, their father’s attempts to kidnap Dale – and not all of these were as satisfying.
Most did not even really amount to much in the end. Any drama that could have been built by the mother’s sickness was lost as it was overshadowed by the climax of Nora and Dale’s storyline. Worse still were the lengthy sections devoted to Robert the private detective. These parts simply broke up the twin’s storyline and felt more like a diversion than a necessary addition. While it is true that there was some character development to be had by these parts (particularly for Nora, who for some reason did not previously realise that her father was a bully), it was hard to feel fully invested in them as they just were not as interesting as the magical subterranean faerie land.
The ending of the story also felt a little rushed. Nora’s journey into the faerie kingdom to rescue her brother is remarkably swift and ends with little conflict. It was somewhat surprising that the faerie warriors – previously described as having a taste for human flesh – did not play any part in the climax. While it was vaguely hinted that they were growing dissatisfied by Adele, the complete lack of resistance was still jarring. The epilogue of the story also felt tacked on. Without it, the novel would have stood alone as a complete piece but the epilogue was simply used for titillation – to hint at where the next novel would go – and it did so without any kind of subtlety.
Yet I will give credit where credit is due. For all the problems I had with depth and structure, I did think that Cutter did a really great job with here characterisation. All of the characters in the story were neatly fleshed out, possessing unique likes, dislikes, fears and hopes. Nora and Dale stood out in particular, as their personalities complimented each other greatly. While Dale was methodical and organised, Nora thrived in chaos and experimented freely. The way that the twins interacted was very believable, showing the way that siblings can argue and yet still love each other, and it was nice to see that both of their abilities were ultimately important in saving the day.
Although I found some of the subplots to be unnecessary, Cutter’s ability to write great characters did shine through in every member of the secondary cast. Every single one of them possessed a solid backstory which neatly explained their present actions. Kostya’s desire for revenge against the faeries is understandable when it is revealed what they have done to him (although his methods are less forgivable), while Denise’s decision to run away with her family makes perfect sense when the reader sees exactly what she has fled from. While I did feel that there were too many characters at time, it was nice to see that they were all fully realised.
So, all in all, this novel is a bit of a mixed bag. While it has a lot of unique ideas and a great cast, it is ultimately let down by the fact that it tries to cram too much into the story. There are just too many plots running side by side, too many characters and some of the flashier devices seem rather flat when closely examined. While the story didn’t bore me, it also didn’t leave me desperate for more. I hope that the next novel in the series is a bit more focused as this story has a lot of fantastic elements that are just screaming for development.
The Clockwork Fairy Kingdom can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk