In 2012, Kevin J. Anderson wrote a novel based on Rush’s concept album, “Clockwork Angels.” My review at the time noted that while the prose was somewhat distant and the themes too stark for me to connect to, I also noted that the secondary characters seemed more fully drawn than the protagonist.
Flash-forward to 2015, and Anderson along with Neil Peart have revisited the world they created with “Clockwork Angels” to focus on some secondary characters who appeared in the first novel. “Clockwork Lives” centers on Mirinda Peake who lives in the unappealingly named “Lugtown” with her father. She, unlike the main character in “Clockwork Angels” (Owen Hardy), is quite content with her life. Marinda is a very practical woman who reflects the culture of clockwork order the creator of Albion (The Watchmaker) has wrought. Her life is stable, predictable, comfortably frugal – and not that interesting. Her father (Arlen), however, is an eccentric inventor – though an old and sickly one – who wishes his daughter had a taste for adventure and a desire to see the world beyond Lugtown. Mirinda has no interest in her father’s vision of how she should live her life, nor is she interested in his contraptions, books, and stories of how he worked for The Watchmaker at one time. It’s not until his death does her life change. Arlen wants his daughter to have a full and epic life – because she gave up hers to take care of him — so he crafts a plan to push her “off the farm,” as it were, and into the world.
Arlen leaves his daughter a book of blank pages and instructions in his Last Will and Testament to pack the book with the stories of other people in the world. She gets a small stipend, and will receive her full inheritance (a large amount of gold and the house she grew up in) after she’s filled the pages of the book. But the book doesn’t contain ordinary paper. Rather, it’s been treated with some kind of alchemical compound “to react with human blood in a very specific fashion…One drop of blood will spread out on the pages and record that person’s story.” This “gift” is not what Mirinda expected from her father, but as Arlen noted in his final letter to her: At first you will hate me for this. Then you will love me for it.
Eventually, Mirinda leaves Lugtown, almost dies in a airship accident caused by The Watchmaker’s nemesis, The Anarchist, reaches Albion’s capitol of Crown City and starts on a journey where she meets unique and not-so-unique characters who agree to put a drop of blood on the pages of her book (called “Clockwork Lives”). She gets her father’s story, her wayward mother’s (who left her family to become a free spirit who also had a taste for robbery), and a whole host of other individuals whose lives had interesting twists and turns that diverged from the clockwork pattern of most of Albion’s citizens, and the less orderly country of Atlantis. As Mirinda collects these stories, she also starts to change. Her desire to “go home” lessens and she’s more enthralled by the people and places she visits. Her father’s prediction that she will hate him for pushing her into something uncomfortable is somewhat evident in the first part of the book. She doesn’t entirely lose any love for him throughout the novel (she seems more annoyed by what he’s making her do), but she does grow to love the adventure she’s on.
Some of the featured tales Mirinda collects are more engaging than others. For example, “The Bookseller’s Tale” explored quantum theory of “many possible worlds” in a “through the looking glass” manner that was both thrilling and heartbreaking. The same goes for “The Fisherman’s Tale” which tells an exciting story of love, tragic loss, and cooperation between species (the fisherman and a whale – or “leviathan” in the book). Those two stories stood out for their compelling narratives and ability to really pull the reader in and connect with the characters. Other tales weren’t so successful, but loosely taken together, Anderson and Peart show how the lives in Mirinda’s book often intersect – and not always for the best.
Overall, “Clockwork Lives” is a highly satisfying assortment of stories of characters marked by a common theme: unique lives lived on a grand scale. And that’s the moral of the novel. Instead of living a life that can be summed up in a sentence or two – which many, if not most, of the lives in Albion could – one should be engaged in the world and let it beat you up some. Only through these experiences can we explore many possible worlds — some of which are within us.