The view was nice, but the food was bad (meh).
Clockwork Samurai is the second in Jeannie Lin’s Gunpowder Chronicles. I really enjoyed the first book, steampunk fan that I am so I was thrilled to get my hands on an advance copy of the next installment.
Clockwork Samurai takes place a year after the events in book one; Soling is working as a physician and has attracted the notice of the drug addicted Emperor. Chang-wei continues to work with the Ministry of Engineering and to encourage the Emperor to consider an alliance with the Japanese. When the Emperor agrees, Chang-wei embarks on a covert assignment in Japan to seek out a man that Soling’s father was in contact with before his death. Seeking to escape the politics of court, Soling accompanies Chang-wei, much to his chagrin.
Clockwork Samurai is filled with adventure. Japan has isolated itself from China and it’s an adventure in and of itself for Chang-wei and Soling to even get to Japan. When they do arrive in the Chinese quarter it’s another battle for them to actually leave this confined area and find the man that was willing to make an alliance with the Chinese. If you’re a fan of adventure stories you will not be disappointed with this aspect of the story. There is a huge emphasis on action and adventure and readers get to explore this clockwork Japan, which does include clockwork samurais (very cool). Admittedly, I found all these steampunk elements to be awesome, but what was less awesome was the romance.
In the first book, I was okay with the romance between Soling and Chang-wei being pretty minor. The restraint between these two leads was refreshing. This time around, I was much less patient. It’s been a year since the events of the first book. A year! And absolutely nothing is different between Soling and Chang-wei. They’ve barely spoken for the entire year since they are working in separate parts of the palace and when they do it’s like the events of the previous book never happened. There is zero passion between this couple. The subdued nature of the first book worked well, but there wasn’t a lot of momentum forward in this relationship in the second book. I was hoping for a whole lot more in book two and I was grossly disappointed with Clockwork Samurai on the romance front.
Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the relationship between Soling and Chang-wei, I have to admit that I did really appreciate how the author added some much needed tension between the pair. I like that Soling is confused by Chang-wei’s defense of Western ideals and how she stands up for herself when Chang-wei is dismissive of her own less scientific practice of medicine. This conflict was integrated really well into the book and reflected the larger conflict in the book, which is the influence of the Western world and the Emperor’s motivation to stem the tide. For me, this conflict between Soling and Chang-wei really saved this second book from becoming too boring. Yes, adventure was there, but since I’m more of a character-driven reader, I did find the emphasis on action and events to be rather dull. Couple this with the absolute glacial pace of Soling and Chang-wei’s relationship, and I was rather disappointed in the whole book. Only the tension between Soling and Chang-wei’s personal viewpoints on their country’s involvement with the West kept me interested and it is exactly this that will keep me interested enough to read the follow-up.
So, while I didn’t love Clockwork Samurai it did have some redeeming qualities. I wouldn’t recommend it for romance readers, since this was a disappointing read in that respect. I would, however, recommend this to fans who prefer an action-driven read featuring a setting that is pretty unique in the steampunk genre. The Asian setting and the clockwork technology were all aspects that continue to interest me; it’s the romance that needs to perk up.
If you are a fan of a quieter romance, Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown is a great follow-up. It’s witty and charming and also features characters of diverse backgrounds, something that was a tad unexpected in a Regency setting. Read my full review for why you should read this one.
If you’d like a road trip plus a heavier romance in your steampunk, give Delphine Dryden’s Scarlet Devices a shot. The setup for Soling and Chang-wei’s romance is very similar to the one that you see here in Scarlet Devices, although it is much less…tame.
For the adventure fan, it’s essential that you give my all time favourite steampunk series a try: The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. This series is so much fun and the hero and heroine are fabulous! One of them is an archivist who’s got an unexpected secret agent side. Start with book one, Phoenix Rising.