Rating: 4.75 stars
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Marcus Stenhill, Viscount of Westwood, is walking through the foggy streets of the Little Orient in San Francisco. He is looking for a special tea his grandmother loves when he stumbles upon a man being beaten in the street. Marcus’ father always taught him the importance of honor, and that his wealth and position in society mean that he should help others in need. So Marcus steps in and saves the man from the thugs.
Marcus is shocked to learn that the beaten man is none other than Robin Harris, the Toymaker. Over 20 years ago, Robin’s mechanical inventions were appropriated by the Society, a group that sought to overthrow the government and the Queen. Although Robin was just a teen at the time, and never intended his inventions to be used for evil purposes, they were taken by the group and caused great harm to many. This includes Marcus’ father, who was killed by the detonation of an explosive device made from Robin’s work.
Despite this, Marcus’ sense of honor compels him to take care of the man. Robin is pretty much universally despised for his perceived role in the Society’s actions, not to mention having been literally branded as a sodomite and spending two years in New Bedlam. Marcus knows there is no one else to help, and so he stays by Robin’s bedside, nursing him back to health.
As the men begin to spend more time together, an attraction grows. Marcus is drawn in by Robin’s keen mind and wonderful, generous spirit. And Robin loves how caring and kind the larger than life Marcus can be. But they live in a time when relationships between men are not tolerated. And with Robin’s reputation, both for the war and his interest in men, he can only harm Marcus by their relationship. The men must decide if the love they have for one another is worth the risks from being together.
Oh, this was such a lovely story by Rhys Ford. I love a good steampunk book and Ford really captures that world in such a wonderful way here. The atmosphere, the descriptions of the city, the wonderful devices Robin makes. It is all so beautifully described and vividly detailed in a way that made me feel like I was living it. Ford paints such wonderful pictures when she writes, and this book in particular captured that for me. There is enough explanation for readers to follow the political history and the set up for the world, without bogging things down in such a short book. The whole world building is just wonderfully done and was a highlight of the story.
The other highlight was Robin and Marcus, who are great characters as well as a lovely couple. We really get a sense of Marcus’ inherent sense of social responsibility, the way he sees his role in society as having a duty to care for others less fortunate. He is a force to be reckoned with, and sort of takes over when Robin is sick, basically moving into his house to care for him. Marcus is so interesting because despite the fact that Robin’s device killed his beloved father, he can accept that it wasn’t Robin’s fault. I loved that Marcus could look past Robin’s public persona and really see the man underneath.
For his part Robin is a fascinating character. As a teen, his brilliant mind led him to create these fabulous devices. Devices which were then used by the Society to do evil. He was manipulated and then left to suffer for the evil doings of others. Now Robin is publicly reviled, but still cares enough about others to dedicate time to making prosthetics and other devices for those in need. Robin is a strong willed and brilliant, but also a bit fragile. And he meshes perfectly with the more assertive Marcus. So I loved these guys together, and enjoyed the connection they had with one another.
The story is very focused on Marcus and Robin, with few side characters. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Marcus’ grandmother, who is just delightful. The old woman is a total spitfire, with a zest for life and an incredibly open mind. I won’t spoil it for you, but the scene where she breaks the ceramic figurine just killed me. I loved how she supports Marcus so unconditionally and takes Robin under her wing.
My only small issue with the story is there are two gaps in time, one while Robin is sick, and the other once the men are growing closer as friends and romantically. It makes sense given the length of the book to have some time jumps like this, but I found the first break seemed to skip a lot of the early development of their relationship. I would have liked a little more time seeing the men transition from strangers into the close bond they formed while Robin was recuperating. The second time jump was a little confusing at first, but it gets cleared up pretty quickly and wasn’t really a problem. So nothing major but it would have helped to have that developed a little more.
But overall I just loved this one. I adore Ford’s writing and this story is a perfect example of why. It is a bit of a departure for her work in that there is no mystery or suspense element. There is very little angst here as well, just a sweet story of two lovely men falling in love amidst a fabulously created and unique world. So I loved Clockwork Tangerine and would definitely recommend it highly.