Review: The Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato


The Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato // VBC ReviewThe Clockwork Dagger
Beth Cato
Published: Sept. 16, 2014 (Harper Voyager)
Purchase: Book Depository or Amazon
Review source: library

Reviewed by: Margaret

Rating (out of 5): 4.5 stars

Octavia Leander is a medician, a magical healer, traveling from her training academy to her new job in a faraway town aboard the airship Argus. During the recent war, she, somewhat unknowingly, made a name for herself healing soldiers from both sides on the battlefield. Octavia has taken great care not to reveal her skills to anyone aboard the ship, but an outbreak, suspiciously similar to a poison attack she treated during the war, quickly makes hiding herself impossible.

I love books that blend genres and defy expectations. The Clockwork Dagger is certainly a great example. The beginning of the book almost feels like an Agatha Christie style murder mystery, despite its typical steampunk setting. Shortly after takeoff, someone tries to kill Octavia and her roommate, the aptly named Mrs. Stout, who knows more about Octavia than she should and has some pretty big secrets of her own.

The ship features a great cast of supporting characters/murder suspects, though surprisingly few supernaturals. There are no vampires or werewolves in this world (at least not yet), just lots of magic. There are elemental mages of every flavor and some magical creatures, like the young gremlin that Octavia rescues.

Once Octavia leaves the dirigible, the book feels more like a fantasy adventure. Unlike most steampunk I’ve read, which takes place in a magical version of Victorian England, this is set in a fictional country, Caskentia, ravaged by war with its neighbor The Waste. The fictional setting allows Beth Cato to address modern issues like bio-terrorism, as rebels from The Waste mount attacks with fire mages and poison water supplies, and to create a political climate where it’s not clear who Octavia’s enemies are or why she should hate them. Her role as healer muddies the waters even further, since her natural inclination is to help everyone.

Octavia’s healing is a combination of magic and religion. She hears music from all the living things around her, which becomes discordant when the body is sick or injured. She’s able to use the song to identify and treat the ailment. She begins a healing by praying to The Lady, but she also uses herbs and a magic circle to focus her power.

The world around her believes her faith in The Lady is antiquated superstition, despite Octavia being the best healer of her time. She’s the subject of ridicule from some academics who believe everything the medicians do has a scientific explanation. But Octavia’s journey only strengthens her faith, as she finds real artifacts and real evidence of The Lady’s power. It’s an interesting reversal of modern expectations and an inversion of steampunk’s usual fascination with technology.

Octavia is fairly innocent and naïve, so her romance is sort of on a YA level, made up of sweet stolen moments and tingly touches. Her love interest sexy Alonzo Garret has some unusual skills for a porter and Octavia suspects he may be more than he seems. He is in many ways a thoroughly modern hero—a wounded veteran trying to find his place outside the military—while his prosthetic leg is one of those wonderful steampunk gadgets.

The Clockwork Dagger checks all the boxes for what I love about steampunk—a spunky heroine, a slightly damaged hero, political intrigue and fantastic clockwork creations. But it also transcends genre and tackles contemporary issues. Most importantly, it takes you on a wild ride through a fantasy world and you won’t want to put it down. I’m thrilled that Cato’s writing a sequel!

Sexual content: kissing

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