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Escapement by Jay Lake
Cover Artist: Stephan Martiniere
Review by Colleen Cahill
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765317094
Date: 24 June 2008 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Interview: Jay Lake / Show Official Info /

We can all think of a memorable minor character in a story that we would like to know more about, one that speaks to us even with just a brief meeting. With Jay Lake's latest work, Escapement, I get the joy of having not one but two such characters brought to fuller life; the librarian Emily Childress and Chief Petty Officer Threadgill Angus Al-Wazir are now major focuses in this book. I am also delighted to once again explore Lake's clock driven world, where the gears that keep the Earth moving around the lamp of the Sun are visible to any who look skyward and history is not an alternative to ours, but a merry mix up that can boggle the mind.

The first pages of this book introduce us to Paolina Barthes, a girl living in a village on the Wall at the Earth's equator. It might be an isolated spot where people barely survive, but Paolina's intellect is not limited by her surroundings, and she has a mind that could rival Issac Newton for genius. When a boy from the wreak of the airship Bassett gives her a stemwind watch, it sets in motion events that lead her to leaving her village in search of English wizards, ones that can teach her secret inner workings of the world. Paolina has a glimpse of this, especially after she creates her own clock, one that has a fourth hand and even she does not know what it measures.

In the meantime, Emily Childress is pulled from her post as librarian at Yale University at the command of the avebianco, the secret society she has served for decades. As she is taken on board a steamer to England, is it revealed she will be handed over to the Silent Order to answer questions on why two of their members disappeared after they followed Hethor Jacques over the Wall. A sacrifice for secret politics, Childress never the less still has strong feelings for the ideals of the white birds; to "acknowledge and preserve God's work in the world, while advancing the labors of Man." Her fate seemed sealed until the ship is attacked by a Chinese submarine; she is mistaken for a leader in the avebianco and taken on board that vessel when all on the ship are killed. The librarian must now search for answers on why the attack took place without revealing she is not the lady who was sought.

Last, but no means least, is Threadgill Angus Al-Wazir (you have to love that name!), who limped back to England after the wreck of the Bassett only to be court-martialed out of the service. Life in Scotland is barely tolerable to the sailor and when offered a chance to rejoin the Service, he takes it. It is Al-Wazir's unique knowledge of the Wall that makes him valuable, as he is being sent to assist a mad German professor with a plan to drill through the Wall to the other side, something the English fear their arch-rivals, the Chinese, have already completed. Just the Wall itself will be a challenge, but Al-Wazir soon realizes that the greatest danger will come from the obsessed Herr Doctor Professor Lothar Ottweill, whose ambition to get his enormous steam drills though the Wall will not be put aside for any reason.

Lake has done a superb job with this second book, combining elements of intrigue, science, and a wonderful mash up of history. One cannot help but be delighted by even the hints that are dropped, such as casual mention of the Logger Rebellion, a failed colonial revolt lead by Generals Lee and Lincoln. The Wall, which can be considered a character itself, is far more complex than just a mile high slab of stone. There are tunnels with cars that can span months of travel in a few hours and brass men who were created by Solomon and now serve a mysterious Authority. All these fascinating bits are combined into another masterful work that is not only an engrossing story, but a work that is beautifully crafted to capture your imagination ... and then turn it on its head. While not absolutely necessary, I would recommend reading Mainspring before Escapement so you can fully enjoy every nuance of this compelling book.

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