Book Review: Clockwork Angels by Kevin J. Anderson + Neil Peart

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Book Review by William Kee

I was very excited about this book, just as I was excited about the Clockwork Angels album, I fell in love with the first single, Caravan, even going so far as to use it as my theme music over on my old channel, Will173 Productions.

But I’m not here today to jump into a review on the music itself, although I will make reference to the songs throughout this review.

The groundwork for Clockwork Angels was already there. Neil Peart, who is the drummer of the band Rush, wrote the lyrics to all twelve songs on the album, and Peart’s good friend and author Kevin J. Anderson, who is a pretty big name in the science-fiction genre, brought together a story that weaves a tale together through all twelve songs on the album.

It seems fairly clear early on that if Neil Peart were to have written this story on his own that it wouldn’t have come through in the same staggering light that Clockwork Angels: The Novel does now with the assistance of such talent like Anderson.

So instead, the two writers and friends developed the story together. Peart obviously providing the groundwork for Anderson to be able to bring the words to life in this imaginative and very thought-provoking piece of literature.

So the story follows a young man named Owen Hardy who finds himself torn between order and chaos. He lives in a society where a benevolant Watchmaker has created this “Stability”, which allows for everything and everyone to have their place and for every place to have its thing. Everything runs smoothly and nobody questions whatever is going on.

Artwork by Hugh Syme

Artwork by Hugh Syme

That is, until Owen Hardy starts to dream big, imagining a world outside his home village of Barrel Arbor. His journeys take him far and wide across the open sea, travelling with carnies, meeting pirates, and even the eye-catching Clockwork Angels in the heart of the world: Crown City, where the Watchmaker sets his rules and keeps order throughout the surrounding land.

Of course, Owen Hardy also must learn the nature of chaos as he continues to face off against the dreadful Anarchist, who is out to stop the Watchmaker’s stability and open people’s eyes to freedom and decision-making. The book is built on the backdrop of an old-fashioned, steam punk and alchemical society.

The story does a clever job of making you feel for both sides of the spectrum. Although at the start of the story you ultimately feel that living in stability is what’s right, as Owen Hardy has been brought up to believe, when you flip to the opposite end of the spectrum, you also realize that with stability, comes loss of freedom, dreams and thoughts of “what-if”. Everyone just does, they follow order, they follow precision, and Owen Hardy’s curiosity for something more is what drives him to leave his village and seek out his true calling in life.

Every character in this story is interesting and provides for great dialogue and interesting development in Owen Hardy as he continues to grow and learn along the way. From beginning to end, you definitely feel that you yourself have grown and come a long way with Owen Hardy.

Certain chapters also take you inside the mindset of both the Anarchist and the Watchmaker, two very opposite characters, both of whom have their fair share of flaws that only you are aware of but remain oblivious to the world around these other characters.

If you are an avid fan of Rush music as well, there are many nods to the songs on the Clockwork Angels album, at least on every page or so. Even the chapter titles come from the song lyrics on the album. And one thing I came to realize as I approached the conclusion to the book, and this was one thing I think was intentional and turned out really well, was how the story flowed from start to finish much like each song off the album. From “Caravan”, to “The Garden”, these songs were brought to life by Kevin J. Anderson and woven into the much larger story that followed Owen Hardy’s character.

As well, there were also little nods to songs from other Rush albums, like Moving Pictures, Permanent Waves, 2112, Presto and Roll the Bones.

Artwork by Hugh Syme

Artwork by Hugh Syme

And of course, I’d be an idiot if I didn’t mention the artwork. Hugh Syme, who is a five-time Juno Winner for Best Album Design, provided a few in-book paintings that coincide with some of the chapters and help provide a visual perspective on sets, characters and landscapes throughout the novel. The art allows you to build off your imagination and place yourself in Owen Hardy’s world. This story has so much attention to detail that I could almost reach and touch whatever is in the book.

Not only did I enjoy this book from cover to cover, but its the first book in a while that I couldn’t put down. It wasn’t a terribly long book, and it got its message across very well in such a short amount of time. But there’s so much content driven through the pages that is borrowed from the album and the mindset of two fantastic literary geniuses that it’s no surprise this book is amazing.
Final Score: 9 out of 10

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