REVIEW: The Clockwork Nightingale’s Song by Amy Rae Durreson
In the automated Vauxhall Floating Gardens, high above the smoggy streets of London, Nightingale No. 48 is refusing to sing. Stern mechanic Shem Holloway brings in the Gardens’ brilliant but arrogant inventor, Lord Marchmont, to fix the broken automaton. But the clockwork nightingale has a secret, and soon both men find themselves questioning whether they should be trying to fix a mechanical heart at all.
Dear Ms. Durreson,
Clockwork/steampunk generally isn’t my thing but something about a mechanical bird with a heart caught at mine. When I saw this on sale, I jumped all over it and began to read it immediately.
For a short story, it packs a punch. Care is taken so that I felt I knew not only the main characters but also saw the secondary ones as more than cardboard cutouts. Shem Holloway is a man who knows his job but also his place. He takes care of the apprentice boy under his charge because not only is Shem a decent mentor who wants the boy to learn and succeed but he has seen the dangers lurking for the working class who mingle with their Betters. He’s quick to set someone straight about how the Quality might dabble for a brief time but it’s usually the poor who end up paying the price of that indulgence.
At first he sees Lord Marchmont as an arrogant toff who quickly blames the workers for the problem besetting his invention and also for not notifying him earlier. With quiet grit, Shem sets that misapprehension straight, too. Soon, Shem begins to learn a bit about Marchmont whose messy workplace makes Shem’s hands twitch to set it right even as Shem discovers a delight in a kindred inventing spirit. Could Marchmont’s stiffness and occasional anxiety be due to loneliness? Did he not have anyone to share ideas and interests with?
Something in Shem is astounded when he learns how the brass nightingale has been built and he stops Marchmont from taking that out. There’s a reason the bird won’t sing as it’s supposed to. But as Marchmont and Shem work to overcome what is keeping the mechanical bird from freedom and happiness, will they be able to cross their own barriers just as the little bird is longing to do as well?
This story charmed me and had me rooting for both pairs to find a way across the seemingly impenetrable divide. Hearts yearned where they shouldn’t and for what they ought not have been able to achieve. I would like to have seen a bit more of the bird, though. Yet despite the shorter length, I felt both grasp their chance and reach for something magical. After all, love is taking a chance on finding happiness and to do that, sometimes you have to take a risk. And have two inventors willing to help you do that even as they reach for it themselves. B