Internationally bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson teams up with Rush lyricist and drummer Neil Peart to expand the story set out in Clockwork Angels, the twentieth studio album by the legendary rock band. For more than two centuries, the land of Albion has been ruled by the supposedly benevolent Watchmaker, who imposes precision on every aspect of life. From his sleepy hometown of Barrel Arbor, young Owen Hardy watches the steamliners drift by, powered by alchemical energy, as they head towards Crown City — never dreaming that he is already caught between the grandiose forces of order and chaos, between the Watchmaker and his nemesis, the Anarchist. Owen’s journeys begin at a fabulous carnival with clockwork wonders beyond his imagination and take him aboard airships, far into the Redrock Desert to seek lost cities, through storms at sea to encounters with pirates .... and give him a chance at love.
Clockwork Angels is a unique project, a steampunk fantasy novel based on the concept album by rock legends Rush. I developed it with Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart, who has been my friend for 25 years. Oh, and I also think it’s one of the best novels I’ve ever written. – Kevin J. Anderson
"A very entertaining, elegantly written story."–Booklist
"Dazzling locales, memorable characters and high adventure that will make you think long after you’re done. What more can you ask from a book?"–Sci Fi Pulse
Time is still the infinite jest
It seems like a lifetime ago—which, of course, it was ... all that and more. A good life, too, though it didn't always feel that way.
From the very start, I had stability, measurable happiness, a perfect life. Everything had its place, and every place had its thing. I knew my role in the world. What more could anyone want? For a certain sort of person, that question can never be answered; it was a question I had to answer for myself in my own way.
Now that I look back along the years, I can measure my life and compare the happiness that should have been, according to the Watchmaker, with the happiness that actually was.
Though I am now old and full of days, I wish that I could live it all again.
Yes, I've remembered it all and told it all so many times. The events are as vivid as they were the first time, maybe even more vivid ... maybe even a bit exaggerated.
The grandchildren listen dutifully as I drone on about my adventures. I can tell they find the old man's stories boring—some of them anyway. (Some of the grandchildren, I mean ... and some of the stories, too, I suppose.)
When tending a vast and beautiful garden, you have to plant many seeds, never knowing ahead of time which ones will germinate, which will produce the most glorious flowers, which will bear the sweetest fruit. A good gardener plants them all, tends and nurtures them, and wishes them well.
Optimism is the best fertilizer.
Under the sunny blue sky on my family estate in the hills, I look up at the white clouds, fancying that I see shapes there as I always have. I used to point out the shapes to others, but in so many cases that effort was wasted; now the imaginings are only for special people. Everyone has to see his own shapes in the clouds, and some people don't see any at all. That's just how it is.
In the groves that crown the hills, olive trees grow wherever they will. From a distance, the rows of grapevines look like straight lines, but each row has its own character, some bit of disorder in the gnarled vines, the freedom to be unruly. I say it makes the wine taste better; visitors may dismiss the idea as just another of my stories. But they always stay for a second glass.
The bright practice pavilions swell in the gathering breeze, the dyed fabric puffing out. That same gentle wind carries the sounds of laughing children, the chug of equipment being tested, the moan and wail of a calliope being tuned.
While preparing for the next season, my family and friends love every moment—isn't that the best gauge of a profession? My own contentment lies here at home. I content myself with morning walks along the seashore to see what surprises the tide has left for me. After lunch and an obligatory nap, I dabble in my vegetable garden (which has grown much too large for me, and I don't mind a bit). Planting seeds, pulling weeds, hilling potatoes, digging potatoes, and harvesting whatever else has seen fit to ripen that week.
Right now, it is squash that demands my attention, and four of my young grandchildren help me out. Three of them work beside me because their parents assigned them the chores, and curly haired Alain is there because he wants to hear his grandfather tell stories.
The exuberant squash plant has grown into a jungled hillock of dark leaves with myriad hair-fine needles that cause the grandchildren no small amount of consternation. Nevertheless, they go to war with the thicket and return triumphant with armloads of long green zucchinis, which they dump into the waiting baskets. Bees buzz around, looking for blossoms, but they don't bother the children.
Alain braves the deepest wilderness of vines and emerges with three perfect squash. "We almost missed these! By the next picking, they would have been too big."
The boy doesn't even like squash, but he loves seeing my proud smile and, like me, takes satisfaction in doing something that would have gone undone by less dedicated people. He feels he has earned a reward. "Tonight could I look at your book, Grandpa Owen? I want to see the chronotypes of Crown City." After a pause, Alain adds, "And the Clockwork Angels."
This is not the same book that I kept when I was a young man in a small humdrum village, but Alain does have the same imagination and the same dreams as I had. I worry about the boy, and also envy him. "We can look at it together," I say. "Afterward, I'll tell you the stories."
The other three grandchildren are not quite tactful enough to stifle their groans. My stories aren't for everyone—they were never meant to be—but Alain might be that one perfect seed. What more reason do I need to tend my garden?
"The rest of you don't have to listen this time," I relent, "provided you help scrub the pots after dinner."
They accept the alternative and stop complaining. How can this be the best of all possible worlds when doing the dishes seems preferable to hearing tales of grand adventures? Of bombs and pirates, lost cities and storms at sea? But Alain is so excited he can barely wait.
Adventuring is for the young.
Ah, how I wish I were young again….
In a world where I feel so small
I can't stop thinking big
On the green orchard hill above a sinuous curve of the Winding Pinion River, Owen Hardy leaned against the trunk of an apple tree and stared into the distance. From here, he could see—or at least imagine—all of Albion. Crown City, the Watchmaker's capital, was far away (impossibly distant, as far as he was concerned). He doubted anyone else in the village of Barrel Arbor bothered to think about the distance, since only a few had ever made the journey to the city, and Owen was certainly not one of them.
"We should get going," said Lavinia, his true love and perfect match. She stood up and brushed her skirts. "Don't you need to get these apples to the cider house?" He would turn seventeen in a few weeks, but he was already the assistant manager of the orchard; even so, Lavinia was usually the one to remind him of his responsibility.
Still leaning against the apple tree, he fumbled out his pocketwatch, flipped open the lid. "It won't be long now. Eleven more minutes." He looked at the silver rails that threaded the gentle river valley below.
Lavinia had such an endearing pout. "Do we have to watch the steamliners go by every day?"
"Every day, like clockwork." Owen thumbed shut the pocketwatch, knowing she didn't feel the same excitement as he did. "Don't you find it comforting that everything is as it should be?" That, at least, was a reason she would understand.
"Yes. Thanks to our loving Watchmaker." She paused a moment in reverent silence, and Owen thought of the wise, dapper old man who governed the whole country from his tower in Crown City.
Lavinia had a rounded nose, gray eyes, and a saucy splash of freckles across her face. Sometimes Owen imagined he could hear music in her soft voice, though he had never heard her sing. When he thought of her hair, he compared it to the color of warm hickory wood, or fresh-pressed coffee with just a dollop of cream. Once, he had asked Lavinia what color she called her hair. She answered, "Brown," and he had laughed. Lavinia's pithy simplicity was adorable.
"We have to get back early today," she pointed out. "The almanac lists a rainstorm at 3:11."
"We have time."
"We'll have to run …"
"It'll be exciting."
He pointed up at the fluffy clouds that would soon turn into thunderheads, for the Watchmaker's weather alchemists were never wrong. "That one looks like a sheep."
"Which one?" She squinted at the sky.
He stood close, extended his arm. "Follow where I'm pointing … that one there, next to the long, flat one."
"No, I mean which one of the sheep does it look like?"
He blinked. "Any sheep."
"I don't think sheep all look the same."
"And that one looks like a dragon, if you think of the left part as its wings and that skinny extension its neck."
"I've never seen a dragon. I don't think they exist." Lavinia frowned at his crestfallen expression. "Why do you always see shapes in the clouds?"
He wondered just as much why she didn't see them. "Because there's so much out there to imagine. The whole world! And if I can't see everything for myself, then I have to imagine it all."
"But why not just think about your day? There's enough to do here in Barrel Arbor."
"That's too small. I can't stop thinking big."
In the distance, he heard the rhythmic clang of the passage bell, and he emerged from under the apple tree, shading his eyes, looking down to where the bright and razor-straight path of the steamliner track beckoned. The alchemically energized road led straight to the central jewel of Crown City. He caught his breath and fought back the impulse to wave, since the steamliner was too far away for anyone aboard to see him.
The line of floating dirigible cars came down from the sky and aligned with the rails—large gray sacks tethered to the energy of the path below. There were heavy, low-riding cargo cars full of iron and copper from the mountain mines or stacked lumber from the northern forests, as well as ornate passenger gondolas. Linked together, the steamliner cars lumbered along like a fantastical, bloated caravan.
Cruising above the rugged terrain, the linked airships descended at the distant end of the valley, touched the rails with a light kiss, and, upon contact, the steel wheels completed the circuit. Coldfire energy charged their steam boilers, which kept the motive pistons pumping.
Owen stared as the line of cars rolled by, carrying treasures and mysteries from near and far. How could it not fire the imagination? He longed to go with the caravan. Just once.
Was it too ambitious to want to see the whole world? To try everything, experience the sights, sounds, smells … to meet the Watchmaker, maybe work in his clocktower, hear the Angels, wave at ships steaming off across the Western Sea toward mysterious Atlantis, maybe even go aboard one of those ships and see those lands with his own eyes … ?
"Owen, you're daydreaming again." Lavinia picked up her basket of apples. "We have to go now or we'll get soaked."
Watching the steamliners roll off into the distance, he gathered his apples and hurried after her.
The clouds overhead turned gray and ominous on schedule as the two skidded to a halt at Barrel Arbor's newsgraph office, which Lavinia's parents operated. The station received daily reports from Crown City and words of wisdom from the Watchmaker; her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Paquette, disseminated all news to the villagers.
Owen relieved Lavinia of her basket of apples. "You'd better get inside before the rain comes."
She looked flushed from exertion as she reached the door to the office. Grateful to be back on schedule, she pulled open the door with another worried glance, directed toward the town's clocktower rather than the rainclouds themselves.
With his birthday and official adulthood approaching like a fast-moving steamliner, Owen felt as if he were standing on the precarious edge of utter stability. He had already received a personal card from the Watchmaker, printed by an official stationer in Crown City, that wished him well and congratulated him on a happy, contented life to come. A wife, home, family, everything a person could want.
From the point he became an adult, though, Owen knew exactly what his life would be—not that he was dissatisfied about being the assistant manager of the town's apple orchard, just wistful about the lost possibilities. Lavinia was only a few months younger than him; surely she felt the same constraints and would want to join him for the tiniest break from the routine.
Before she ducked into the newsgraph office, Owen had an idea and called for her to wait. "Tonight, let's do something special, something exciting." Her frown showed she was already skeptical, but he gave her his most charming smile. "Don't worry, it's nothing frightening—just a kiss." He looked at his watch: 3:05, still six more minutes.
"I've kissed you before," she said. Chastely, once a week, with promises of more after they were officially betrothed, because that was expected. Very soon, she would receive her own printed card from the Watchmaker, wishing her happiness, a husband, home, family.
"I know," he continued in a rush, "but this time, it'll be romantic, special. Meet me at midnight, under the stars, back up on orchard hill. I'll point out the constellations to you."
"I can look up constellations in a guidebook," she said.
He frowned. "And how is that the same?"
"They're the same constellations."
"I'll be out there at midnight." He quickly glanced at the clouds, then down at his pocketwatch. Five more minutes. "This will be our special secret, Lavinia. Please?"
Quick and noncommittal, she said, "All right," then retreated into the newsgraph office without a further goodbye.
Cheerful, he swung the apple baskets in his hands and headed toward the cider mill next to the small cottage where he and his father lived.
More thunderheads rolled in. The day was dark. With the impending rainstorm, the town streets were empty, the windows shuttered. Every person in Barrel Arbor studied the almanac every day and planned their lives accordingly.
As Owen hurried off, sure he would be drenched in the initial cloudburst, he encountered a strange figure on the main street, an old pedlar dressed in a dark cloak. He had a gray beard and long, twisted locks of graying hair that protruded from under his stovepipe hat.
Clanging a handbell, the pedlar walked alongside a cart loaded with packets, trinkets, pots and pans, wind-up devices, and glass bubbles that glowed with pale blue coldfire. His steam-driven cart chugged along as well-oiled pistons pushed the wheels; alchemical fire heated a five-gallon boiler that looked barely adequate for the tiny engine.
The pedlar could not have picked a worse time to arrive. He walked through Barrel Arbor with his exotic wares for sale, but his potential customers were hiding inside their homes from the impending rain. He clanged his bell. No one came out to look at his wares.
As Owen hurried toward the cider house, he called out, "Sir, there's a thunderstorm at 3:11!" He wondered if the old man's pocketwatch failed to keep the proper time, or if he had lost his copy of the official weather almanac.
The stranger looked up, glad to see a potential customer. The pedlar's right eye was covered with a black patch, which Owen found disconcerting. In the Watchmaker's safe and benevolent Stability, people were rarely injured.
When the pedlar fixed him with his singular gaze, Owen felt as if the stranger had been looking for him all along. He stopped clanging the handbell. "Nothing to worry about, young man. All is for the best."
"All is for the best," Owen intoned. "But you're still going to get wet."
"I'm not concerned." The stranger halted his steam-engine cart and, without taking his gaze from Owen, fumbled with the packages and boxes, touching one then another, as if considering. "So, young man, what do you lack?"
The question startled Owen and made him forget about the impending downpour. He supposed pedlars commonly used such tempting phrases as they carried their wares from village to village. But still …
"What do I lack?" Owen had never considered this before. "That's an odd thing to ask."
"It is what I do." The pedlar's gaze was so intense it made up for his missing eye. "Think about it, young man. What do you lack? Or are you content?"
Owen sniffed. "I lack for nothing. The loving Watchmaker takes care of all our needs. We have food, we have homes, we have coldfire, and we have happiness. There's been no chaos in Albion in more than a century. What more could we want?"
The words tumbled out of his mouth before his dreams could get in the way. The answer felt automatic rather than heartfelt. His father had recited the same words again and again like an actor in a nightly play; Owen heard other people say the same words in the tavern, not having a conversation but simply reaffirming one another.
What do I lack?
Owen also knew that he was about to become a man, with commensurate responsibilities. He set down his apples, squared his shoulders, and said with all the conviction he could muster, "I lack for nothing, sir."
Owen got the strange impression that the pedlar was pleased rather than disappointed by his answer. "That is the best answer a person can make," said the old man. "Although such consistent prosperity certainly makes my profession a difficult one."
The old man rummaged in his packages, opened a flap, and paused. After turning to look at Owen, as if to be sure of his decision, he reached into a pouch and withdrew a book. "This is for you. You're an intelligent young man, someone who likes to think—I can tell."
Owen was surprised. "What do you mean?"
"It's in the eyes. Besides," he gestured to the empty village streets, "who else stayed out too long because he had more to do, other matters to think about?" He pushed the book into Owen's hands. "You're smart enough to understand the true gift of Stability and everything the Watchmaker has done for us. This book will help."
Owen looked at the volume, saw a honeybee imprinted on the spine, the Watchmaker's symbol. The book's title was printed in neat, even letters. Before the Stability. "Thank you, sir. I will read it."
The stranger turned a dial that increased the boiler's alchemical heat, and greater plumes of steam puffed out. The cart chugged forward, and the pedlar followed it out of town.
Owen was intrigued by the book, and he opened to the title page. He wanted to stand there in the middle of the street and read, but he glanced at his pocketwatch—3:13. He held out his hand, baffled that raindrops hadn't started falling. The rain was never two minutes late.
Nevertheless, he didn't want to risk letting the book get wet; he tucked it under his arm and rushed with his apples to the cider house. A few minutes later, when he reached the door of the cool fieldstone building where his father was working, he turned around to see that the old man and his automated cart had disappeared.
"You're late," his father called in a gruff voice.
Owen stood in the door's shadows, staring back down the village streets. "So is the rain"—a fact that he found far more troubling. A crack of thunder exploded across the sky and then, as if someone had torn open a waterskin, rain poured out of the clouds. Owen frowned and looked at the ticking clock just inside the cider house. 3:18 p.m.
Only later did he learn that the town's newsgraph office had received a special updated almanac page just that morning, which moved the scheduled downpour to precisely 3:18 p.m.