I nearly gave up on Dru Pagliassotti's Clockwork Heart just a few pages in, because it dumped you straight into a foreign sci-fi world with no guidance as to the vocabulary terms or place names, but then I remembered that Anne Bishop's Black Jewels Trilogy did the same thing, and that there, I adored the process of figuring everything out. So I decided to give Clockwork Heart the standard "ten percent or fifty pages" before abandonment, and by thirty pages or so I was hooked. This novel is full of steampunk goodness, and it reminded me very much of the classic sci-fi film Metropolis (which I studied in one of my musicology classes - how great is my field?). Clockwork machinery (the "Great Engine") runs the city of Ondinium, and any problem with this manual computer represents a huge threat to the well-being of all of the people. The book gives us a lighter-than-air mineral ("ondium"), and fabulous metal wings, with their construction and use vividly described for us over the course of the book. These wings are worn by icarii, the messengers of Ondinium who stand outside the rigid class system and are able to traverse the entire city and interact with all castes. At that thirty page mark, I was figuring out how it all worked, and I was so excited to continue learning more about Taya's job as an icarus.
Unfortunately, the book didn't live up to its strong beginning for me, because it devolved into a pair of terrorist plots (one of which I figured out several hundred pages early, and the other of which seemed like a pointless add-on after the main conflict was resolved but the book still had eighty pages left to go) and a love triangle between the charming blonde brother and the acerbic dark brother (The Vampire Diaries, anyone?). Since the caste system and the icarus's role in it were by far the most interesting parts of the book for me, I was actually disappointed when the book moved beyond world-building into plot.
Still, it was an impressive debut novel and it made me realize that as much as I like the steampunk aesthetic, I really haven't read much in the genre! Perhaps I should remedy that - what are the best or most important steampunk books?