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The Wonder Engine: 09/28/18
The Wonder Engine by T. Kingfisher is the conclusion to the Clocktaur duology. Adventurers Slate, Brenner, Caliban, and Edmund have arrived at their destination of Anuket City. Now they need to discover the source of the Clocktaurs and find a way of neutralizing them or die trying.
Over the course of the last book (or the first half if you want to count this as one book divided into volumes, rather than a book and a sequel) the travelers have gone from a loosely knit group of squabbling companions to an ersatz family. Becoming closer in someways makes them less powerful but it also makes them less vulnerable to the dangers of the road.
This volume also goes into more of Slate's background (the last one giving backstory time to Edmund and Caliban). We know from early on in The Clockwork Boys that Brenner was put in charge of the mission because of her ties to Anuket City. Now we learn just how close and dark those ties are, and how dangerous returning is for her.
Besides our initial party we are introduced to a couple of gnoles. It is through the exploration of gnole culture and language that Kingfisher does what she does best — examining and deconstructing gender roles and expression in society.
Because of the confines of the city and the exploration of gender, prejudice, and class, The Wonder Engine reminds me both of Snuff by Terry Pratchett and of the recent middle grade fantasy, Beast & Crown by Joel Ross.
In terms of the road narrative spectrum, the novel is confined within the city of Anuket, where the goal is to prevent further release of the Clocktaurs or somehow get word back home as to how they are made. The traveling party has pretty much become a family, meaning that they have started to care about everyone's wellbeing. To get to the Clocktaurs, they have to take unconventional means to get around the city, meaning they are going "off road" (via rooftops and other low traffic areas).
Thus this novel sits in the rather "safe" end of the spectrum, even with unexplained horrors that seem to defy the logic and magic of their modern day world. The big piece of this book, then, is the unraveling of the mystery. That is where Edmund gets to earn his informed title of "Learned" through a mixture of book research and the tracking down of local knowledge.
That's not to say that victory is easy for our heroes just for the sake of them being heroes. We already know that every other person sent on this mission has failed horribly. Instead, I contend that it is easier for them because they have come together and have taken their time getting there — time well spent on becoming a "family." There is strength in numbers.