In 1895, twelve-year-old Sally is shunted off to her brooding inventor uncle, Erasmus Croach. Escaping his mansion becomes the spunky girl’s top priority and, luckily for Sally, no locks can restrain her for long. Her freedom could give her the chance to discover the shadow behind her uncle’s success, but will she live long enough to learn the truth? Meanwhile, police robot Sky begins to suspect that his creator Erasmus isn’t telling the truth about how London’s robot factory operates. When Sally and Sky team up, they’ll learn the shocking reality that will rock Victorian England to its bones.
Both Sky and Sally are very much children. Sky is newly made and engineered to look like a young boy and, though he does the work of an adult, Sally often seems more mature than he is. Where he is cautious she is adventurous, but both are guided by an absolute sense of right and wrong. Neither they nor anybody else seem to like Erasmus. The two main characters dovetail nicely, though they also work well on their own. Secondary characters, like Sky’s police chief, Sally’s governess, and even Erasmus, are basically stock characters, but the story isn’t very complex, so it’s rarely a problem.
Running class commentary gives this volume a solid subtext. Between the missing working-class children and the numerous ways in which class is used against Sally, there’s no question that this book will appeal to youngsters with a socially conscious bent. This take on steampunk is also fairly unusual, utilizing the Victorian cogs-and-gears aesthetic in such a way as to highlight the negative consequences of hypothetically rapid technological development in the 19th century. Human rights is also featured as a socially conscious theme: just as steambots aren’t expected to have any feelings or thoughts of their own, Sally isn’t expected to react badly to being chained up. The repression of London’s lower classes is based on the outright slavery of obviously sentient robots and the system carries on because robots are more docile and attractive than their human counterparts. It’s a well-constructed broken system with multiple facets that manage to make you think despite the comparative simplicity of their presentation. Some of these themes, which help make The Clockwork Sky a good story, will be lost on younger readers, but teenagers will get the message.
Though Madeleine Rosca’s human figures are strong, some panels—particularly those covering the velocipede race—could have used more visual exploration of the machines. However the action feels urgent, the villain feels appropriately menacing, and The Clockwork Sky is a quick, enjoyable read overall. Large panels drawn from unusual angles help to give London, the robot factory, the velocipede race, and other settings a sense of scope and depth that support the magnitude of Erasmus’ power.
This particular story is reminiscent of Girl Genius in its characterizations, but moves along much faster and feels lighter despite the heavy themes it explores. Steampunk fans will likely enjoy this interesting piece and look forward to reading the rest of the story.
The Clockwork Sky, vol. 1
by Madeleine Rosca
Seven Seas, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: (T)