Monday, May 27, 2013

Review: Legacy of the Clockwork Key - Kristin Bailey

Legacy of the Clockwork Key by Kristin Bailey
Series: The Secret Order #1
Genre: YA, historical fiction, mystery, steampunk
Published on March 4, 2013
Published by Simon Pulse
Pages: 409
Read From: 5.20.13 - 5.23.13

When a fire consumes Meg's home, killing her parents and destroying both her fortune and her future, all she has left is the tarnished pocket watch she rescued from the ashes. But this is no ordinary timepiece. The clock turns out to be a mechanical key - a key only Meg can use - that unlocks a series of deadly secrets and intricate clues that Meg has no choice but to
follow. She has uncovered evidence of an elite secret society and a dangerous invention that some will stop at nothing to protect, and that Meg alone can destroy. Together with the handsome stable hand she barely knows but hopes she can trust, Meg will be swept into a hidden world of deception, betrayal, and revenge. The clockwork key has unlocked her destiny.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I absolute love the cover art, with the wheels in the upper corners, and the clockwork bird, and the skyline of London. It's extremely attention-grabbing for a Reader like me, who loves Victorian mysteries. Unfortunately, the cover is a bit misleading.

Characters: The biggest problem was Meg Whitlock, the protagonist. Quick to take offense to the slightest tease or criticism, Meg spent the majority of the book angry at someone - usually Will MacDonald. Her foul temper caused her to seem immature and rude, and that isn't something I like in a heroine. Poor Will, who does his best to protect her, doesn't deserve her ungratefulness, especially when he is under no obligation to help her. And yet she expects him to, flying off the handle and taking it personally when he voices his doubts and caution. Meg isn't willing to consider the dangers of her endeavors, so Will is obliged to be the voice of reason in their little expedition. Needless to say, I did like Will, but not enough to redeem the whole book. I enjoyed his quiet demeanor and applauded his patience with Meg - a girl so bratty that no average human being would give the time of day to. But because I was stuck inside Meg's irritating little head, as a Reader, I gradually began to get tired of Will simply because of Meg's constant flipflop between her feelings for him. Do you hate him or do you like him, Meg? Trust or suspect? Make up your mind!! In short, my slight dislike for Will had nothing to do with the character himself, but had everything to do with the protagonist. I began to view his (perfectly reasonable) mood swings with as much annoyance as Meg, and I didn't like it. Thankfully, though, the two side characters - Lucinda and Oliver - are entirely bereft of wearisome personality flaws. In fact, it is my opinion that Lucinda would have made a much better protagonist than Meg ever did. Lucinda was much more level-headed and practical, and her emotional issues were entirely relateable. Meg may have just lost her parents to a fire but five months ago, but I don't think it's her grief that makes her as bratty as she is. Clearly Lucinda was not always the timid, sorrowful creature we initially meet, as her personality comes through when she begins to shed her mourning for her lost husband. Now for the villains. To put it bluntly, they are obvious. One of them screams red herring so loudly that I knew he couldn't be the "100% villain." There had to be another one. And I was right. Neither of them, though, are intimidating or even especially evil. One is a brute, and the other is a mad inventor, but neither have especially dastardly plans for the main characters.

The Romance: With a "handsome stable hand" that Meg has been forbidden from seeing, romance is inevitable. And the sparks between Meg and Will practically send the Reader flying across the room, they happen so quickly and with such force. Meg's first meeting with Will leaves her hating him for no good reason, and yet she can't ignore how handsome he is, how warm she finds his skin, or how well-muscled he is. Please; these are the obvious symptoms of an adolescent crush and nothing deeper. If I meet an attractive guy for the very first time, good looks go to the back of my mind, especially if I am approaching this person because I need their help with something (which is why Meg goes and finds Will in the first place). And if I find said attractive person rude, their good looks fly out a window. And quite honestly, I could not figure out why Will liked Meg back. She is nothing but a brat who takes offense far too easily. Unfortunately, the romance is a pretty constant element throughout the book. It isn't the story's main focus, but it definitely gets a great deal of attention.

Plot: After Meg's parents die in a fire, the mysterious Lord Rathford - an "old family friend" - takes her on as a housemaid (or is she a kitchen maid?). Meg has never seen Rathford; no one in the house has. Her job is to just keep everything in the house exactly the way it was the day Rathford's wife died. That includes refilling a teacup every day and tipping it on its side, stepping carefully around the shards of a broken vase (and heaven help her if she accidentally touches one!), and keeping the dead lady's room free of dust. Meg may have never seen Lord Rathford, but she knows that he's always watching her, so she goes about her duties, regardless of how odd. But when Meg goes out to the forbidden carriage house to see if the mysterious groomsman can fix her father's pocket watch, everything changes. The watch isn't a pocket watch at all, but a strange mechanical key, which opens a secret panel in Lady Rathford's bedchamber. What Meg discovers there is shocking; her grandfather, long thought dead, may in fact still be alive, but hiding from a mysterious murderer. Her parents had secrets, too - they belonged to a secret society called the Secret Order of Modern Amusementists. And someone has been killing off members - someone who is now after Meg, and the clockwork key that is now in her possession. Meg ends up dragging an unwilling Will into her adventure, as she searches for clues to her parents' murderer and pieces together a puzzle that her grandfather and his friend, Simon Pricket, left behind. It seems that one of the society members did the unthinkable: built a weapon, and Simon and Meg's grandfather were determined to destroy it. The clockwork key and their clues will lead Meg to the machine so she can fulfill their last wishes - to rid the world of it for good. My first problem with the plot was the pacing. The Author didn't give herself nearly enough time to built a sense of mystery and tension. With the setting of Lord Rathford and his eerie home, she had a perfect opportunity to create a unique - and spooky - ambiance. But instead, the book launches straight into secret passages, strange puzzles, and fantastical inventions - and all without any build-up. Legacy of the Clockwork Key could have very easily began with Meg's arrival at Lord Rathford's, discovering what her duties would be, and her puzzling over the strangeness of it all. She could have observed the mantelpiece clock and its strange flower impression, and then realized that her key went to it when she and Will discover the pocket watch's secret. The way it is, the plot felt far too rushed and the mysterious ambiance the story could have had comes crashing down. My next problem is with the Secret Order of Modern Amusementists itself. It is a really awesome concept, and I absolutely love their inventions. Automatons have never been this awesome. But what was the purpose? Why did they build these extravagant machines - some of which require entire hillsides to be hollowed out so they can be stored away. With something like this, it has to be for more than just entertainment. While quaint, I didn't find this excuse to be wholly realistic. Even with these flaws, the general storyline was entertaining. It reminded me of an adventure/puzzle-solving computer game, kind of like The Omega Stone or The Crystal Key. It could have even been a Nancy Drew PC game, and that isn't necessarily a criticism; just an observation. I constantly kept picturing Nancy Drew-like graphics, and a little tool bar where the player could select the clockwork key when it was needed, or Oliver's handy-dandy night vision goggles that also helped solve the hedge maze. The player's goal is to collect the six mysterious plates that will unlock the final puzzle, and you have this awesome automaton carriage to take you to places on your navigation map. Actually, Legacy of the Clockwork Key would make a perfect PC game.

Believability: This was a book that I couldn't help but be nit-picky about. The little historical details are often some of the most important, to help create a believable Victorian ambiance, and I hate to say that the book failed in this respect. I will take these one at a time, in the order I encountered them, and not by importance. First off, housemaid and kitchen maid are not interchangeable terms, nor are their duties. Meg refers to herself as a housemaid in the beginning, and then later calls herself a kitchen maid. Which is she? Probably the most grievous error is when Meg is forced to rip her skirts off. At one point, a carriage overturns and Meg's skirt gets caught on a wheel. As Will pulls her out, her skirt - and petticoat - rips all the way to her knee, exposing her ankle, her calf, and her knee. Meg isn't mortified by this at all, and instead rips the skirts off all the way, to just above her knee, so she can walk. She now has both legs exposed, including a goodly part of her drawers. And she's only worried about her ankle. Now, the reason the ankle was considered scandalous in the Victorian era is because it was part of one's leg, and one's legs were so scandalous that polite people didn't even call them legs - they were "limbs." So if Meg has her skirts to knee-length, her ankle is the least of her worries, and she would not be mortified that Will could see her feet; she would be utterly mortified that he could see all the way up to her knees. And she wouldn't continue to traipse about in it, unless she has as much disregard for propriety as prostitutes did. To make this even more ridiculous, Lucinda later appears in a pair of trousers, and Oliver and Will are positively embarrassed. Meg is baring a lot more skin, and the boys never react to her. I also have a very hard time believing that in 1861 London, Meg has never heard of coffee.

Writing Style: First person, past tense. For once, I wish it hadn't been in first person, because I grew extremely tired of being locked up in Meg's head. The style itself was nothing special. There were lots of short sentences, and there was no poetry to the narration, no beautiful descriptions beyond mention of the automatons, and no Victorian flavor.

Content: None.

Conclusion: Meg comes face-to-face with her villain. Or is he? He might be responsible for a lot of things, but is it possible that there was a second party that is behind her parents' deaths? Or even a third? I will leave the Readers to ponder these tantalizing questions, or I can just tell you: [Spoiler] there's a third party. [End spoiler] Despite the lack of earth-shattering revelations at the climax, at least neither villains monologue much, their comeuppance is surprisingly not all that cliche, and there's a big bang to finish things off. Quite literally. I knew what I was stepping into when I picked up Legacy of the Clockwork Key, thanks to a friend who had already read it, so I didn't have any high expectations. And I'm glad, because they would have been crushed pretty ruthlessly. The concept was good, and I did really like the society's inventions, and I even kind of liked the PC game feel it had. But Meg was a horrible protagonist, and the romance was thoroughly irksome. Combine that with the historical inaccuracies, the unspectacular writing style, and the plot holes, and even the awesome automatons couldn't make up for this book's flaws.

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, fourteen-and-up, fans of historical mysteries with a steampunk flair, and don't mind an annoying girl protagonist.

Others in The Secret Order Series:
1)Legacy of the Clockwork Key
2)Rise of the Arcane Fire

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