Publisher: HARPER Voyager
Publication year: 2014
Format: Paperback, 358 pages
Octavia Leander is a healer, orphaned as a child and taken in by Miss Percival, the headmistress of the Caskentian medicians academy. Now an adult, she has become a healer with incredible powers, far stronger than the other medicians – including Miss Percival herself – and in a land torn apart by war, those powers are in high demand. Embarking on her first mission to help a town riddled with illness in the far south, Octavia boards a run-down airship called the Argus.
What should be a routine journey soon becomes dangerous, with assassins making attempts on Octavia’s life and many of the passengers and crew falling ill under suspicious circumstances. On top of this, Octavia’s cabinmate hides a dangerous secret about her past, and one of the Argus‘s stewards – the charming and attractive Alonzo Garrett – is not merely a steward, but one of the Queen’s spies known as a Clockwork Dagger. Octavia soon discovers that powerful factions on both sides of the war have taken an interest in her healing abilities, and that even those she thought cared about her cannot be trusted.
The Clockwork Dagger is a fast-paced story set in a gloomy world that feels fresh and original, and the blend of steampunk, fantasy and intrigue works well. My only real criticism was that as the main character, Octavia felt slightly one-dimensional. Her naivete, while charming at first, did wear thin after a little while, and I felt that in some situations, she was too quick to forgive and trust other characters when they revealed dark secrets about themselves. In short, she felt a little too perfect. This might not bother some readers, but for me it just didn’t quite ring true. As a result I found it difficult to care about her romance with Alonzo too much, but since it was only a small part of the story anyway, it didn’t feel like a huge issue. Still, I hope that future books in the series help to flesh out the characters in more detail.
I found the magic system in the book interesting. Though Octavia has an unusually strong healing gift, much of her magic works through her praying to the Lady, a goddess of healing. In a world mostly based on technology and mechanical inventions, the use of magic based on faith and prayer was a nice contrast; even within Caskentia, there are those who firmly believe in science and ridicule the idea that magic and the Lady exist at all.
I hadn’t heard of Beth Cato before rummaging through the pile of review books at Nalini’s house, but the title of this one caught my eye; anything with “clockwork” in the title usually means steampunk, and though I’m relatively new to the genre, I have enjoyed most steampunk novels I’ve read so far. Cato has written poetry and short stories, but The Clockwork Dagger is her first novel, and I think it’s a more than worthy entry to the genre. Some aspects or plot twists were a little predictable, but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable to read. I’m very much looking forward to reading the sequel, The Clockwork Crown, which is next in my to-be-read pile.