I’ve been sitting on this reader reaction for a couple weeks because I wanted to post it right before its release tomorrow/today (depending on where you are in the world). I requested the ARC from Sky Pony Press and was given an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
I’ll start by giving you a bit of my background with Timekeeper (which was a 5/5 stars for me): I asked for the book for Christmas (2016) because I saw that it was a Steampunk LGBTQ story with a neat cover. That’s basically it. I had low expectations entering because I hadn’t heard much about it other than what I just wrote above. When I was given the book, I devoured it. It was one of those stories that kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end. Chainbreaker was no different.
This review will be less focused on specific points from the novel to avoid spoilers. Instead, the majority will be based on my reactions to the characters, plot, and the ending (which will not give anything away, but it will offer a general mood and my feelings about the ending, so if you would like to skip, stop at the sentence “A bajillion times yes!” halfway through the 4th paragraph).
“Clock mechanic Danny Hart knows he’s being watched. But by whom, or what, remains a mystery. To make matters worse, clock towers have begun falling in India, though time hasn’t Stopped yet. He’d hoped after reuniting with his father and exploring his relationship with Colton, he’d have some time to settle into his new life. Instead, he’s asked to investigate the attacks.
After inspecting some of the fallen Indian towers, he realizes the British occupation may be sparking more than just attacks. And as Danny and Colton unravel more secrets about their past, they find themselves on a dark and dangerous path–one from which they may never return.”
Although it was the Danny/Colton story that I fell in love with in Timekeeper, it was the solo-Colton and solo-Daphne storylines that kept me hooked to Chainbreaker. To be completely honest, I wasn’t fond of Daphne in Timekeeper. I don’t know if that’s something that Tara Sim had intended before focusing in on her in the sequel or not, but it was a phenomenal shift for me.
When Daphne and Danny are sent to India as two promising clock mechanics to help solve the mystery behind attacks and their consequences, Daphne’s mixed British/Indian identity becomes a focal point of the story. While this wasn’t a huge point in Timekeeper, it becomes a huge part of this novel and probably the part of the novel that I was most intrigued by. Because of Daphne, Tara Sim claims Chainbreaker an #ownvoices story. Recently, a Kirkus reviewer claimed that “mixed-race Daphne’s character does not develop much, despite the fact that her late father had a white English father and an Indian mother and that Daphne’s trip to India plunges her into speculation about her heritage and identity…” Apparently there were a couple details that weren’t entirely in line with the Indian setting, but this in no way affected my reading of it. Granted, I’m not as familiar with Indian culture as I’d like to be, but considering that Daphne is an #ownvoices character, I really think that this is one of the few times I’ll freely write that I do not suggest reading major reviews on this novel before reading it. The critical conversation surrounding race and diverse characters/authors is wildly interesting and vital to all readers, but lately, I think (not that my opinion is worth much) that the overall conversation is steering in a direction that is excluding too many valid characters and writers, especially those that are #ownvoices.
While I loved both the characters and plot in Timekeeper, the plot did fall a bit flat for me in comparison until the very end. The characters, though? They all had me wrapped around their fictional fingers the entirety of the novel. Timekeeper was equally plot and character driven; Chainbreaker felt more driven by characters and opinions. There are definite opinions that serve as foundation for this novel, and while that isn’t for everyone, I loved it. I love that I know what the speaker/writer is passionate about (i.e. equal rights, gun control, etc.). No, maybe not everyone agrees with these opinions, but that doesn’t detract from the power of giving these thoughts to characters in a time when the masses vehemently disagree. That alone gives the story a new level of emotion: we follow characters who may be scared to death of the consequences of following their hearts and who have a much more modern sense of “right” and “wrong.” Of course, these novels are modern, but when I was completely immersed in the story, I didn’t think of it like that. It was just characters fighting for what they believed in decades ahead of their time.
Why did the plot fall flat for me then (until the end)? That’s not something that I like to say without offering an explanation for what may otherwise seem a harsh opinion. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the plot, but I felt like the plot in this novel was created to advance the characters rather than the actual clock tower story. It did advance the clock tower story! It did but in a way that tied back so closely to the characters that it felt more pre-destined than chance. I guess what I’m saying with this is that it’s entirely up to reader preference on this point. Did I enjoy the plot? Yes. Was it as great as Timekeeper‘s? No, not in my opinion. BUT! Was the end of Chainbreaker wildly more exciting and informative than Timekeeper? A bajillion times yes! [I’ll try to be spoiler free in this next sentence, even though it’s going to be hard…] I don’t know how my opinion on the plot while reading managed to do a complete 180 within a couple chapters, but the realization about why certain things were happening to a certain character (that I had thought were entirely developing that character) transformed into another thick-ass layer of amazing plot that changed EVERYTHING ABOUT THE FREAKIN’ WORLD IN THE SERIES!
And what does Tara Sim do after this life changing and horrific/spectacular realization?
She ends the fucking book.
Pardon my swearing, but I don’t think you’ll understand my emotions until you read Chainbreaker. I’m both incredibly excited about this change (as well as other major changes that occurred but that were not nearly as unsettling) and what it means for the entire world and incredibly shocked. I’m shocked… That’s a great way to put it. I’m shocked that this is what the entire world was like the entire time. Once you read it, there’s no going back. My entire perception of the whole world in the Timekeeper series has shifted to something dark. The series became dark. That added layer of plot is a damn storm cloud that made home over a once mostly-sunny place.
I don’t know what Tara Sim will do in her next novel. I have no clue, but I do know that whatever it is, it’s going to be utterly perfect and devastating.