by Jay Lake



320pp/$24.95/June 2007

Cover by Stephan Martinière

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

In 1802, William Paley wrote a teleological treatise entitled Natural Theology in which he argued that if he found a watch, he would know that there was a watchmaker and if he found a world he should therefore know that there is a worldmaker, or God. This argument has become known as the watchmaker analogy and Jay Lake takes it to its extreme in his novel Mainspring. In Lake's world, God is literally a watchmaker and the Earth runs via an enormous clockwork mechanism.

One night in nineteenth century New Haven, apprentice clockmaker Hethor Jacques is awoken in the middle of the night by a visitation from the archangel Gabriel who gives Hethor a quest to find the Key Perilous and wind the Earth's Mainspring. Not knowing what to do, he turned to his master's son, who is studying theology at Yale University. Hethor finds himself turned out by his master, penniless.

The novel follows Hethors quest, not only for the Key Perilous, but also for companions to assist him in the quest. Despite a promising start with assistance from a Yale librarian and a ride into Boston, Hethor finds that just because he is on a divine quest doesn't mean he is guaranteed assistance. In fact, there are powerful elements at work to ensure that he is unable to find the Key Perilous and the Mainspring. Much of the novel depicts Hethor's attempts to avoid his enemies and find some assistance, which never seems to be where he expects to find it.

In many ways, Hethor's quest is subordinate to Lake's world. As Hethor travels from New Haven to Boston to the Wall that circles the Earth at the Equator and provides the cogs that move the Earth through space to the hemisphere beyond, Lake creates a world which is similar to our own, but essentially different. Rather than create an alternate history, Mainspring is a parallel history. Despite differences between Hethor's world and ours, such as Jesus being broken on the wheel rather than crucified, the world has managed to get to a recognizable place.

As the Earth's pacing slows down, a result of the Mainspring not being wound, Hethor's quest takes him to the Southern hemisphere, a world which is reminiscent in many ways, of the pulp fiction of Robert E. Howard or Clark Ashton Smith. Of course, Lake's prose is a great improvement on those earlier authors whose lost world appeal he manages to channel in the jungles and creatures Hethor finds that are unlike anything that exists in our own southern hemisphere.

Lake does an excellent job of presenting the big idea of the world in which Mainspring is set. A strong theological and teleological discussion is never far from the surface of the novel, made even more interesting by the fact that Hethor's world is inhabited by angels, birdmen, apemen, and other creatures which are not native to our own place and time. At the same time, Lake doesn't sacrifice the story, following Hethor's quest to its end and providing the reader with a satisfying conclusion.

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