A CLOCKWORK RIVER by J.S. Emery.
Head of Zeus. h/b. £18.99.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.
Samuel Locke collects locks, as his family name – once a wealthy and well-known line – would suggest. He occupies the southern half of the second floor of the family’s once grand home and shares the remainder of the house with his father, sister, housekeeper, spirit and all manner of books, locks, and (though mostly unknown to him and his father) his sister’s chemical experiments. Under Sam’s care, his (once his grandfather’s) lock collection has grown, and now he finds himself the youngest collector ever to be invited to share his collection at the Lock, Key and Fob Club. A high honour indeed.
Not even a distant explosion from his sister Briony’s quarters on the north half will prevent Sam’s excitement, nor the grouchy and indeed more grouchy than usual manner of his father, Malachi, on this special evening. Unfortunately for Sam, he has not quite realised that his wonderful and unique collection of locks will draw attention from more than just the devotee members of the Lock, Key and Fob Club.
Sam, an engineering school dropout, may be distracted with his collection, but Briony has not failed to notice something untoward in her father’s moods and the ever-dwindling household items surrounding them in the Locke home. Mid-experiment, with a mouse problem that may crop up later, Malachi summons her for dinner, and she knows what will be expected. The burden hanging over her head, as the young female of the Locke line: she must marry into wealth to save her family.
A Clockwork River follows both Locke children, and indeed everyone else in the family and the greater London and beyond the area, through adventures that become ever more madcap, intangible and bizarre as the stories unfold. This book is unique in that this reviewer, after many, many years of reviewing new and speculative fiction, has never read anything like it. It is magical, superbly different, impossible to predict, joyful in its madness and above all refreshingly entertaining if a little meandering.
At the beginning of the book, we are treated to a list of the upcoming chapters – all wittily if accurately named – which is a nice touch; something of the anciently quaint and all it promises set the scene for what turns out to be a languid and lengthy exploration of societal expectations and boundaries across multiple tiers and cultures, all told through a narrative voice that has humour and intelligence in spades and is not afraid to use them to follow random tangents and relate these tales in complex sentences using complex vocabulary. It shouldn’t work, this arduous spiralling of detail over many, many hours of reading, and yet somehow, 12ish hours later, it has.