A guest review by Jenre
A marvellous blend of contemporary and historical romance which follows two men and their rocky road to love both helped and hindered by a metal clockwork phallus.
Late-19th-century illusionist Alain Mobry, a short, homely man with a clubfoot, is known primarily for his elaborate clockwork automata. But his private life is even more complex than his mechanisms. Mobry is a homosexual and a member of the Green Carnation Club, a secret gathering place for gay men of the theater. He’s also dabbled in “real” magick. There are hints of it in an illusion called the Fountain of Youth–in which a beautiful youth called Puck, never seen in public, emerges from a diorama and disappears back into it–and in a profane automaton Alain has devised specifically to entertain the Green Carnation’s members. He would like his creation to be for one man in particular, a fellow magician with whom he’s infatuated. But he never gets the chance to offer his gift…
Over 100 years later, a peculiar item turns up at an outdoor flea market. It looks something like a blunt-nosed artillery shell to Cameron Waters, the young real estate broker who buys the piece out of curiosity. It looks like the legendary automaton known as Mobry’s Dick to Paul Patrillo, a graduate student who’s been researching the history of stage magic.
While Cameron inches his way out of the closet and Paul struggles to free himself from a sugar daddy who’ll stop at nothing to get what he wants, the unlikely pair grow closer as they tackle the mystery of Mobry’s Dick.
It’s the end of the Nineteenth century and illusionist Alain Mobry has perfected his latest clockwork piece, designed specifically for a man at his club. Alain hopes to impress the man, known as the Turk, so much that he proves to be the one who can overlook Alain’s homely looks and club foot.
Meanwhile, in the present day, Cameron stumbles out if a particularly rank set of portaloos at a flea market and strikes up a conversation with a handsome man. The man asks Cam whether he’d seen an object resembling a metal artillery shell on any of the stalls. Cam hasn’t and they part ways. Later Cam comes across an object he thinks is the one the man was looking for and a perverse sense of curiosity compels him to buy it, just as the man, Paul, spots it. Cam offers to show the object to Paul, who is looking for a specific clockwork automata known as Mobry’s Dick, not understanding that the meeting between them would compel Cam out of the closet and into a new life of mixed messages, betrayal, danger and love.
There was just so much to love about this book that I’m not sure I’m going to be able to do it justice in this review. My favourite thing about it was the blend of different themes and tone within its pages. The parts set in the Nineteenth century – which occur during the first half of the book – were full of heartfelt earnestness as we follow poor, crippled but clever and ingenious Alain as he seeks a way to gain the attentions of the Turk through his provocative, phallic automaton. Alain has that touch of madness about him that all geniuses seem to have and yet his absolute yearning for love and acceptance was touching. His unceasing hope that somehow everything will work out for him was endearing and I read through these sections feeling hopeful myself that all would be well, even if I was also nervous that things might end badly for poor Alain.
The historical section then interspersed and contrasted with the parts set in the modern day, which made up most of the book. I loved Cam who was a delightful blend of naivety and down to earth honesty. The parts at the beginning of the book where he suddenly finds himself making a decision about his sexuality, and the compassionate way he set about coming out of the closet was a joy to read. When he meets Paul, he’s at first very confused and anxious about what it all means for him, but once the decision has been made he embraces the freedom that Paul offers for him in a wonderfully sweet and tender scene. Paul was a little more difficult to like, especially at first, but I was glad that his experiences didn’t leave him jaded. Instead as the book progressed, Paul perhaps grew the most as a character, learning that the easiest option isn’t necessarily the best. I also liked that despite Paul’s experience and more worldly ways, he is the one who believes in the magic of Mobry’s Dick, whereas the innocent Cam is more sceptical.
As well as the blend of magic, drama, romance and suspense, there was a strong element of humour that ran through the book. Much of it a bit sly and very tongue in cheek – after all the main focus of the plot is based around an automaton in the shape of a penis! There were other parts too, for example, “Sir Fartsalot” and an amusing scene involving The Princess Bride, which used humour to dissolve tension, adding a light deft touch to some of the more serious themes in the book.
In addition to this is K.Z. Snow’s lush prose, which engages the senses as well as the emotions, a compelling plot which kept me glued to my book reader, and a convincing romance which wandered down unexpected paths, before resolving very satisfactorily. I don’t have any niggles with the book myself, but I do feel that I ought to warn those who like their heroes to remain wholly faithful once they meet that Cam spends a little time exploring his homosexuality with other men, and Paul also has casual sex. This didn’t bother me in the slightest as neither men had made a commitment at this point, but I know that some readers don’t like it.
All that remains to be said now is that I can’t recommend Mobry’s Dick highly enough and I urge you to read it. You won’t regret it.