Last week, I finished reading Mainspring, a clockpunk novel by Jay Lake. It is a quest/coming of age story, and while the introduction to the quest seemed a little abrupt and cliched, this didn't detract from the story. Awkward mechanics in the opening hook can be dangerous, but it was over quickly enough to focus on the story at hand. The quest is rather simple. Hethor must rewind the clockwork that keeps the Earth rotating around the sun. The consequences of failure are absolute.
The story includes several steampunk elements. Victoria reigns over the British Empire. Airships fly over the land. The main character is not quite a scientist, but as a clockmaker's apprentice, he carries many of the same traits.
Like many steampunk stories, Mainspring provides a platform for social criticism. The most obvious case in Mainspring is the place of religion and faith. Mainspring takes place in a world created by a higher being, in which the artificial construction of the world is obvious for all to see. In the world which Lake has created, formalized religion has a more prominent place than in today's society. As evidence of a higher power is clear for all to see, it is much more difficult to deny. Mainspring is critical of some aspects of formalized religion. As it becomes more organized, the basic tenents of the faith have become obscured. Thrust out of society, Hethor must come to terms with his faith.
Mainspring also provides a criticism on gender inequality, as Hethor encounters several independent women on his journey who surpass his expectations. The expected roles are defined by the dominant religious views in the world.
A final theme explored in the book is that of British colonialism. Hethor is press-ganged into the Royal Navy, and joins a colonial expedition to the south. The projection of Britain's power into new areas is one that clearly mirrors our own history.
Mainspring is a very enjoyable read. I look forward to seeing what Lake has been up to in Escapement, the sequel to Mainspring.