Shelves: fantasy , not-my-cup-of-tea , alternate-history , owned , steampunk , read , worst10 This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Why hello, alternate universe with airships ; we meet again. This was not the way I intended to start reading Jay Lake.
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Lake, Jr. All rights reserved. The young man clutched his threadbare coverlet in the irrational hope that the quilted cotton scraps could shield him from whatever power had invaded his attic room. Trembling, he closed his eyes. His master, the clockmaker Franklin Bodean, had taught Hethor to listen to the mechanisms of their work. Hethor heard first and always his own breathing, even now heavy and slow despite his burgeoning sense of fear. A horse clopped past outside, buggy wheels rattling along with the echo of hooves on cobbles.
Great steam-driven foghorns echoed over Long Island Sound. The new electrick lamps lighting the street outside hissed and popped. But there was no one in the room with him. No one else drew breath; no floorboard creaked. No strange smells either. Merely his own familiar sweat, the hot-tallow scent of his candle, the oils of the house-wood and machine — and a ribbon of salt air from the nearby sea.
Was this a dream? Finally Hethor opened his eyes. The angel was still there. It no longer seemed made of brasswork. Hethor held his breath, afraid to even share the air with such perfection. No dream, this, but perhaps yet a nightmare. The angel smiled. For the first time it appeared to be more than a statue. Or perhaps old metal, like a well-made clock. Hethor had never heard of it. Only you, Hethor. His pulse hissed in his ears.
Not anymore. The angel twisted its hand palm up and opened its fingers. A tiny feather lay there. The angel pursed its lips, blew a breath that sparkled like shooting stars in a summer sky, then vanished.
A thunderclap nearly deafened Hethor. Hethor scooped it up, cutting his right palm in the process. As he struggled left-handed into his breeches, he looked at what he had caught. The feather was solid silver, with razored edges. It gleamed in the candlelight. The cut on his palm was in the shape of a key. Setting the feather on his writing desk, he stepped into his boots — two sizes too small — grabbed his coat, which was a size too small, and raced out the little door and down the attic stairs.
Some had sounded out the sum of the hours — the holy number twelve — then resumed their ticking slumber. Others, especially the smaller, more delicate mechanisms, had been possessed of a nervous tinkling that could only be dampened by careful attention with rubber mallets and soft chamois.
Finally they stood in the workroom. Both were exhausted from the hour and the work. Master Bodean, red-faced and round-bodied in his nightshirt and gray cable-knit sweater, nodded to Hethor.
All was in comforting and familiar order. A tiny furnace, newly powered by electricks. Casting slugs. And parts in their bins; springs and gears and escapements, all the myriad incarnations of brass, steel, and movement jewels. It seemed as if the angel Gabriel — archangel?
Hethor suddenly wondered — had risen from the genius loci of this workshop. He had felt a sense of deliberation, precision, even power, from his visitor that reminded him of the greatest and slowest of clocks.
Bodean would have thought him mad, for one thing. The very idea sounded horrendously self-important. He needed to sort his own thoughts, try to understand what had taken place. It frightened me. Never seen a storm set all the clocks a-chiming before.
He took down a small pewter flask and two tumblers. The whiskey, or whatever it was, had no attraction for him. Yet here was Master Bodean, holding out the little glass, smiling. Hethor took it and sniffed. He almost choked on the sharp scent alone. He tipped the glass to his lips and drank it all in one quick swallow. Hethor tried to imitate Bodean. It was like drinking fire. The whiskey went down, barely.
He had to cup his hand over his lips to keep from coughing some of it out. It tasted like he imagined lamp oil might taste — foul and sharp and strange. He barely heard the clatter of sidereal midnight echoing through the skies, never heard the clocks of the house strike the twelfth hour.
Cotton-mouthed and woolly-headed, he dreamt all night of keys and feathers and clocks with steel teeth. Hethor scrambled into his good trousers and his second-best shirt while he tried to shake the clouds out of his mind.
Though he kept no clock in his attic room, Hethor always knew the time. As a mere apprentice, that was dangerous. Hethor shrugged into his corduroy coat — yet another Bodean family hand-me-down. Boots gripped by his fingertips, he was just about to hurl himself out the door and down the stairs when something caught his eye.
It was the little silver feather, glinting on his writing desk. The previous night came back to him in a collapsing rush: the angel Gabriel and the feather and the clocks and the Key Perilous. He was not mad; he had not dreamed.
But he needed to understand before he could explain it to Master Bodean or anyone else. Hethor dropped the boots, stepped into them, swept up the feather, and clattered down the stairs.
In point of fact, Pryce had spent the least time paying any attention to Hethor whatsoever. On the few occasions when they had spoken, Pryce had been the most considerate, if not exactly kind. Or possibly sheer Christian virtue if nothing else. Hethor set his course for the university, figuring on locating the building when he got there.
The morning was fine, beeches and elms along Elm Street in bloom, flowerbeds beneath them bright with the colors of spring. The air tasted of May, while the dust of dozens of varietals of bloom tickled his nose.
There were few enough people out that the day almost seemed to belong to him. Electrick trolleys that he had never had enough spare money to ride rattled by every so often. A few horsemen passed as well, but otherwise the street was as quiet as the morning of Creation. Not even the nannies were out with their charges yet. The campus itself surprised Hethor.
Yale insinuated itself in the heart of New Haven as though the university were a vital organ in its own right. Then suddenly wide-lawned parks and a bloom of towering red brick buildings with white trim.
His own New Haven Latin school was but a pale imitation of these great precincts of learning. He found Fayerweather Hall by virtue of nearly running into a signpost that announced the Berkeley Oval. Fayerweather was one of five such buildings standing on a circled drive just off Elm Street. Hethor gripped his bookstrap tight and ascended the worn marble steps. With luck, Pryce Bodean would be somewhere within.
With more luck, Pryce would agree to see Hethor. With the greatest luck of all, Hethor might be able to slip back into his own school without being suspended or worse. Elm Street was still slow and quiet. Here within the confines of Fayerweather Hall, Hethor felt a kind of peace. The porter came back, rattling the door as he opened it.