Clockwork Angels is the companion book to the new Rush album of the same name. It’s a steampunk fantasy describing a young man’s dissatisfaction with his safe, ordered life in the Watchmaker’s precisely ordered realm (even the rain arrives on time) and his embarkation on an impulsive adventure that rapidly spirals out of control. Through the book, the hero – Owen Hardy – changes from a naive boy to a young man.
However, if you are expecting complex plotting and multi-layered characters, you will not find them. Clockwork Angels is an allegory; Owen’s physical journey represents his (and everyone’s) journey to maturity, with the inevitable disillusionments and discoveries along the way. As you travel with him, you get to think about the virtue of balance, and the fact that extremes of either order or chaos can be equally undesirable; the nature of life and death; the purpose of imagination; and freedom – the freedom to choose, and the freedom to fail; and more. Some of these concepts occur as themes throughout the book (such as freedom) and others as vignettes covered only in one scene or part of a scene.
Anyone with an interest in philosophy or French literature will recognise a strong resemblance to Voltaire’s Candide; in some ways, Clockwork Angels might be regarded as a retelling of Candide for a modern audience; the authors – for I include Neil Peart, Rush’s drummer – say in an afterword that Candide ‘was an early model for the story arc’. For Rush fans, there are also plenty of references to Rush’s previous work.
So in conclusion, you can read this just as a steampunk fantasy and enjoy it, but by doing so I think you would miss out on the best bits. Read it slowly, and allocate it the brain space and time for some good thinking. You’ll be glad you did.