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The Doomsday Vault by Steven Harper
The clockwork plague hits rich and poor alike, turning some into zombies covered in sores that hide from the sun and others into geniuses called Clockworkers before burning them out in fits of destructive madness. The balance of power between nations rests in the Clockworkers and the improbable and often deadly inventions they create before the plague finally takes them. Alice lost her mother and brother to the clockwork plague. Her father survived, but is an invalid. The daughter of a Baron, her chance at redeeming her family reputation was to marry into a good family- but her fiancee succumbed to the plague as well, thus securing her family’s fall from social grace. The debtors come calling, and still her father tries to establish a future for his daughter.
At a social gathering, her last hope, she catches the eye of a rich, unlanded man, and her title tempts him into courtship. Here, at last is all Alice could hope for.
At least in the mind of her failing father. But Alice is eccentric, having a brilliant mind for mechanics that she is trying to reconcile with the idea of being a traditional wife.
Gavin ruins it all- a young man from Boston with a daunting talent for music. He has survived air pirates and the streets of London only to be taken captive by a mysterious Lady in Red Velvet. Circumstance continues to throw Alice and Gavin together, and throw Alice’s attempt at a well ordered, traditional life into turmoil.
A fast paced mix of Victorian era romance and steampunk high adventure, The Doomsday Vault is a riot of zombies, secret organizations, sketchy politics, and mad scientists. I was utterly fascinated with the Clockwork Plague, even with my usual disdain for zombies. The zombies themselves were just different enough to keep them from being a tired rehash of old ideas, and were genuinely tragic entities. The Clockworkers though were the selling point of the book and the world. Mad scientists by disease, not natural inclination, creating things that were so improbable they were fascinating and enjoyable. They were forces of nature, more than anything else, and so wonderfully essential to the world build.
Alice was a fun take on the plucky urban fantasy heroine, and will appeal to fans of Gail Carriger’s Heartless books. I enjoy strong female characters so much more in the Victorian sort of setting- they come off as less abrasive, they tend to be avoid being written like they have something to prove. It is more of a sense that they are just trying to breathe around that damn corset, or to manage walking amidst all that cloth, and that is trouble enough, thank you.
All in all, a very enjoyable book and I look forward to the continuation of the series!