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Review: Jay Lake's Mainspring

Lake clearly knows how to spin a good tale; in Mainspring, he combines an original and beautiful piece of fiction with a complex and interesting piece of philosophy.

The setting is incredibly original, but the characters speak more strongly to the reader than the world; Hethor is, after all, something of a unique character.  He matures over the course of the book, and that maturation is treated carefully and sympathetically by Lake, rather than in a clichéd or caricatured manner - for instance, whilst some of his views are rigidly inflexible throughout, many more do seem to be able to shift and change and evolve as his experiences demand.  Hethor therefore starts as a sympathetic character and becomes more and more a human one, who is flawed and imperfect even as he is the hero of the novel - when he feels pain, pleasure, sadness, joy, Lake shows it clearly although without making it overemphasising it. Hethor's attachments also, because of the power of their portrayal, also become those of the reader and our sympathies, due to Lake's style and the focus of the novel, tend to follow where Hethor's lead.

The strength of Hethor's character doesn't allow another massively strong character, but it also doesn't overshadow the other characters or prevent Lake including fantastic individuals in the novel.  Other people are drawn well and vividly by Lake, without being too light or heavy with the pen, but also without making them simply secondary to Hethor or extensions of his will/extensions of the plot.  One of the most impressive aspects of these characters, and of the novel, is Lake's portrayal of a different culture (that is, non-Western culture and a culture from which his main character does not originate); this culture is entirely fictional, not rooted in the ideas ours centres on, and with a very different worldview.  The original introduction of this culture is... problematic and dubious, with Hethor something of the Great White God of such diverse works as Pocahontas and Avatar (Dancing with Smurfs, anyone?); but Lake generally avoids that easy pitfall (although not entirely), and makes the culture something significant and independent within the novel.

The setting, as I said earlier, is both original and unique; Lake makes concrete William Paley's notion of the clockwork universe, presenting it literally - the world rotates by clockwork, the solar system is interlocking clockwork, and so on, created by God as a set of ingenious and perfect mechanisms. His history - an America ruled by Britain, a conflict with China - is based on the world and a rewriting of history, but also largely on a rewriting of geography - along the equator a giant cog runs, splitting the Northern and Southern hemispheres to make them nigh-totally inaccessible to each other; Lake uses that division, rather than just letting it sit there mute.

The plot, despite this being the first in a series, is well-contained; whilst it is somewhat clichéd, with Hethor chosen by God to restore Earth to balance and evil anarchists fighting to try and prevent him going on his journey to do so, and whilst the moral is... rather sickly-sweet, Lake does manage to make it work with a certain flare and style that avoids the staleness that tends to cling to these kind of plots.

In the end, despite the simple plot, this is a wonderfully well-written book worth a read, and incredibly enjoyable.

(Originally read 23/02/2010, reviewed on paper, now typed up)

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reading, books
libris_leonis
Daniel Franklin

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