The Doomsday Vault: A Novel of the Clockwork Empire
by Steven Harper
Review by Mel Jacob
Roc Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451464293
Date: 01 November 2011 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
In a steampunk Victorian London, the clockwork plague turns humans into zombies and destroys their minds. A very few become clockworkers, geniuses capable of astounding inventions, but who soon grow demented and die. The Clockwork Empire, Steven Harper's new steampunk series, begins with a zombie attack on Alice, Lady Michaels, as she journeys to a ball to find a husband. Someone has organized the zombies and they have become an active threat against all. Harper creates a fascinating world of devices, conspiracies, and personalities.
Alice comes from a cursed family. Her brother, mother, and fiancÚ all died of it and her father, Baron Michaels, is now crippled. As a result, society shuns his daughter. Alice loves automatons and has an uncommon skill for assembling and repairing the complex mechanisms sent her by her Aunt Edwina over the years. Forced by society to hide her skill, she inadvertently reveals it in public when she repairs one of Lady Greenfellow's automaton musicians.
Gavin Ennock, a cabin boy with perfect pitch, fights off pirates aboard an American dirigible carrying freight. The airship and its crew struggle to repel the boarders, but pirates overcome them and take them prisoner. The pirates kill the captain and Gavin's best friend along with many others. They take the remaining crew captive for ransom or to sell as slaves. The freight company refuses to pay ransom for Gavin, so when they reach London, he manages to escape.
Eventually, Alice and Gavin cross paths and meet the Third Ward, a super secret government organization dedicated to locating all clockworkers and their inventions and placing them in a secure location. The Third Ward has locked clockerworker-created weapons of war in a Doomsday Vault. Including something of Aunt Edwina's.
Filled with danger and narrow escapes, Alice and Gavin fight to survive and to find love in this steampunk coming of age story. Harper's world building is well developed and offers an interesting combination of science and steam. Aunt Edwina, a mad genius, who has saving the world as her mission provides a lot of color. The cliffhanger ending leads nicely into the next novel, The Impossible Cube and has elements leading to the third novel titled The Dragon Men.