Published by Skyscape on December 1, 2014
Genres: Steampunk, YA, YA Historical, YA Sci-fi
A girl with a clockwork heart must make every second count.
When Penny Farthing nearly dies, brilliant surgeon Calvin Warwick manages to implant a brass “Ticker” in her chest, transforming her into the first of the Augmented. But soon it’s discovered that Warwick killed dozens of people as he strove to perfect another improved Ticker for Penny, and he’s put on trial for mass murder.
On the last day of Warwick’s trial, the Farthings’ factory is bombed, Penny’s parents disappear, and Penny and her brother, Nic, receive a ransom note demanding all of their Augmentation research if they want to see their parents again. Is someone trying to destroy the Farthings...or is the motive more sinister?
Desperate to reunite their family and rescue their research, Penny and her brother recruit fiery baker Violet Nesselrode, gentleman-about-town Sebastian Stirling, and Marcus Kingsley, a young army general who has his own reasons for wanting to lift the veil between this world and the next. Wagers are placed, friends are lost, romance stages an ambush, and time is running out for the girl with the clockwork heart.
Diversity Rating: 1 – Tokenism
QUILTBAG: 0 (one guy might be bisexual?)
Disability: 3 (Penny’s bad heart and subsequent bad replacement heart count)
Lisa Mantchev’s Theatre Illuminata trilogy is one of my all-time favorite series and I don’t think that will ever change. Its whimsical tone and imaginative use of theatrical mainstays like Shakespeare’s plays (among many others) enchanted me from the very first page. Naturally, a steampunk novel from her would have much the same effect on me! Well, that was the assumption. It was as intensely readable as her past works, but like its heroine Penny, it has a bit of a defective heart.
From the first page, Ticker makes it clear you’re in for a fun ride full of steampunk aesthetics and whimsy. The tale is well-paced and Penny is a sweet, likable heroine to lead us on the journey into Industria, your standard steampunk pseudo-England. The supposed issue at contention in Penny’s world: whether Augmentations like Penny’s clockwork heart should be allowed, especially since the doctor who designed Penny’s prototype heart kidnapped, tortured, mutilated, and murdered people in order to advance his work.
That question of whether Augmentation should be allowed considering how advancements were made is a just one as the novel presents it. After all, the science of modern gynecology came about because J. Marion Sims totured enslaved black women with his experiments. He was incredibly racist and his methods were legendary levels of unethical and yet we did not abandon or outlaw gynecology the way the people of Industria would like to do to Augmentation due to Warwick’s actions. The difference is that Sims’s actions are 200 years in our past and Augmentation is in the present for Industria.
Aside from the question of Augmentation, which is only a question because of Warwick’s actions, this steampunk story about a girl with no flesh-and-blood heart has no heart of its own. The steampunk aesthetic is solid, but the rebellious, revolutionary core that puts the “punk” in “steampunk” simply isn’t there. A big ethical question isn’t necessarily rebellious or revolutionary and it especially isn’t in the context of Ticker.
The relationships between the characters are discordant in their portrayal; we’re told Violet is Penny’s best friend and in love with Penny’s brother Nic, but Violet seems merely friendly with Violet and we see nothing going on between her and Nic at all. Ticker isn’t a particularly memorable novel either. The characters run from place to place trying to find Penny and Nic’s parents, they end up on a gambling boat at some point, Warwick sends some creepy messages to get the group where he wants them, and other stuff happens. I didn’t read this that long ago and yet I wouldn’t be able to tell you much more than that about the plot!
Also, because of the international political environment right now, I regularly side-eyed Penny’s love interest Marcus, heir to Industria’s greatest private military. There doesn’t appear to be any public military in Industria, just these large private military companies. That seems like a bit of an issue and it goes unquestioned? Of all the issues I have with the US military, I appreciate that the institution itself is public, not private like the pharmaceutical company that once made pay a $70 co-pay for a month’s supply of anti-anxiety medicine.
Ugh, now I’m just rambling. But really, if this book wanted to punk up the steampunk a bit, starting with the private military that the son will inherit from the father sure seems like a good place!
Ticker turned out to be the final book I read in 2016, a year that brought some serious bull for all the decent human beings. Do I regret a book this bland being my final read in such a bad year? No, not really. I was never angry at Ticker and it let me turn my brain off. Momentarily, I forgot that a fascist demagogue is going to be the President of the United States and my life will be in constant danger. I’d say that’s something Ticker has in its favor: its ability to make you forget the rest of the world no matter how you feel about its content.