Escapement – Jay Lake

Cover of "Escapement"

Zep'lins and Clockwork and Mainspring, oh my.

Escapement by Jay Lake is a followup/sequel to his 2007 novel Mainspring, a clockwork, steampunk travel fantasy.  I liked this more than the first one – in part because the pace feels faster, but also because these particular characters clicked for me.  I’m lining up the next one to read immediately.

This book takes place in the same world but now follows three new principal characters.  Each of these people sets out on a journey with a particular mission or goal, and the novel follows their progress as they meet, part, and meet again.  The characterization is solid and the visual detail is again as impressive as in Mainspring.

The plot gives each of the leads a good solid motivation to get underway and keep going – when characters troop around needing to go somewhere and do something, there’s always a risk that it will feel like only a quest for plot coupons. In this case, there is urgency and risk as our various heroes battle storms and troops to a satisfying conclusion.

If you enjoyed the first book, you’ll definitely like this one.


The three leads in this book each discover that they have abilities beyond or outside what they’ve attempted to that point in their lives.

  • Paolina Barthes – a young woman from a tiny, backwards fishing village on the Wall.  She’s a mathematical and engineering genius purely by intuition.  She’s frustrated and bored out of her mind as the go-to engineer in the tiny culture that has basically no respect for women.  She creates a clock/device in a frenzy of invention, and then flees to find ‘English Wizards’ to help her better understand the world’s workings.  While she’s youthfully naive, her intelligence and determination are also convincingly shown.
  • Emily Childress – librarian Yale Divinity School. Kidnapped/scooped away by the White Bird secret society.  Once on the transatlantic voyage, she learns that she’s to be sacrificed to an opposing group as a political pawn. Instead she ends up the only survivor, impersonating the woman who’d intended to betray her. She’s always thought of herself as a minor cog, but while claiming authority decides that it’s ultimately the same as having that authority.
  • Threadgill Angus Al-Wazir Chief Petty Officer, lost from the zeppelin expedition in book 1, got back to England, was court-martialled, and now is sent back on a wall expedition as the only Royal Navy with experience there.  There are some nice glimpses into his mind as he prepares for the trip, buying dirty pictures and coshes to help manage the large group of men under his ‘command’.
  • Boaz, a Brass Man, met first by Paolina, and then travelling with Al-Wazir.  I hope we see more of him in the next book, he’s really intriguing.  Does he have a soul, is it as simple as Paolina’s insight that he needs to think of himself as an individual rather than ‘a Brass’?
  • Captain Leung – captain of the submarine conveying Mask Childress at the end of the novel.
  • The wall expedition is intending to drill a tunnel through the wall.  I could have done without three quarters of the phallic references to the huge drilling machine – yeah, yeah, I get it.  The writing is plenty descriptive, I can visualize it without the metaphoric nudges to my  ribs.

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