Mainspring is a fast-paced, gosh-wow, adventure and exploration fantasy novel one might call preordained clockpunk.
In a literal clockwork Universe God’s work is so eminently visible that atheism is not an option. Earth and the planets are cogs adorned with equatorial gearwheels that run in a gargantuan mechanism of orbital brass tracks. Clockmaker apprentice Hethor Jacques is visited by the archangel Gabriel, and instructed to find the Key Perilious and rewind Earth’s Mainspring. The quest is on, and events follow each other in a frenzied, often phantasmagorical sequence.
The quest, complete with romantic interest and mysterious message to be deciphered, and its various plot coupons (village boy exposed to big town politics: check; innocent boy becomes hardened navy veteran on ultracool zeppelin frigate Bassett: check; air battles with batmen: check; escape meshing of godlike gears with milliseconds to spare: check; and so forth) doubles as a literal coming-of-age parable where the clocknerd Hethor (initially pronounced ‘heffor’ in my mind) gradually becomes He-Thor: the son of Odin, that is, God.
The Jesus angle becomes inescapable as all the narrow escapes and coincidences are happening because he is predestined to succeed. Lake not only breaks the old no ‘God-in-the-Box’ rule, but trashes it to a papery pulp and then wipes his arse with it. But does he get away with it?
Well, with tongue firmly in cheek, he tries, bombarding the reader with dazzling action sequences, engaging character developments, various culture shocks, and grand hypnotising vistas. One could either see Mainspring as a rootin’-tootin’ adventure, and suspend disbelief through the pure thrill and fun; or as an attempt to be the definite clockpunk novel, where all the sleight-of-hands and deus ex machinae are part and parcel of the setup.
Such a conjurer’s trick works only once: in the sequel Lake should either come up with a much better excuse for his ‘I-don’t-need-no-damn-plotting’ writing, or — gasp — plot decently. Furthermore, it takes away all the tension as you know that Hethor will succeed, and this made the final parts — Hethor’s descent into the depths of Earth’s inner clockwork — rather undramatic and anti-climactic.
I can't help but think that if he would just plot carefully, so that it approached his intense imagination and sharp stylistic adroitness; then he might write a novel that would set the fantasy world on fire. But Mainspring is not that novel, unfortunately.