Clockwork Heart (Renée’s review)

25588661Title: Clockwork Heart (Clockwork Love #1)
Author: Heidi Cullinan
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Release Date: February 2, 2016
Genre(s): Steampunk/Alternative Historical/Romance
Page Count: 248
Reviewed by: Renée
Heat Level:  3.5 flames out of 5
Rating:  3 stars out of 5

Love, adventure and a steaming good time.

As the French army leader’s bastard son, Cornelius Stevens enjoys a great deal of latitude. But when he saves an enemy soldier using clockwork parts, he’s well aware he risks hanging for treason. That doesn’t worry him half as much, however, as the realization he’s falling for his patient.

Johann Berger never expected to survive his regiment’s suicide attack on Calais, much less wake up with mechanical parts. To avoid discovery, he’s forced to hide in plain sight as Cornelius’s lover—a role Johann finds himself taking to surprisingly well.

When a threat is made on Cornelius’s life, Johann learns the secret of the device implanted in his chest—a mythical weapon both warring countries would kill to obtain. Caught up in a political frenzy, in league with pirates, dodging rogue spies, mobsters and princesses with deadly parasols, Cornelius and Johann have no time to contemplate how they ended up in this mess. All they know is, the only way out is together—or not at all.

Warning: Contains tinkers, excessive clockwork appendages, and a cloud-sweeping tour of Europe. A little absinthe, a little theft, a little exhibitionism. Men who love men, women who love women, and some who aren’t particular.

Ms. Cullinan and I have an interesting relationship. I’m not a die-hard fan. It’s rather hit or miss. Her writing is always smooth, and I never find fault with the style. I always enjoy it, in fact. This story was no exception.

Her two books that I really liked: Fever Pitch and Carry the Ocean, the latter being downright brilliant! But, other than those, I find I can’t side with the masses when they rant over her stories. I DNF’d Special Delivery many years ago, and people still talk about that book like it’s m/m gold.

The blurb in this one intrigued me so much though. I’m not a fan of steampunk, but I am a fan of something different and refreshing, as long as you give me romance and a HEA. After some particularly enticing reviews, I decided to jump in, especially being accompanied with a BR with Ele.

What worked:
Cullinan builds this alt historical world in 1910 Europe. France is a powerful ruler. Cornelius’s dad is very Hitler-esque and wants to take over all of Europe under one rule (His). Conny is a tinker-surgeon, and comes across a pile of Austrian soldier bodies one night, one of which isn’t quite dead. Johann, still breathing, is taken back to Conny’s place of work and operated on. Conny gives him new limbs and other body parts made from clockwork. And the only-one-in-the-world-shouldn’t-give-it-to-him-but-he’ll-die-otherwise-clockwork-heart.

Cullinan writes this setting amazingly well. Everything is told from alternating POVs. The secondary characters are well-developed. It’s so smart and well-executed. Even shy and fumbling Johann, once healed, is endearing and precious. And so yummy and virginy at eighteen years old!

Which brings me to what didn’t work:
1910 France/Austria are not so liberal that same-sex partnering is allowed freely. It is something that Connie and Johann know they have to hide unless they are among “family.” And so it stands to reason that virginal, eighteen year old Johann is still wrapping his brain around liking dick and being able to be free about that fact among their small group of friends. But see, Conny, he’s pretty kinky. Downright kinky. WAAAAY kinky. He likes to be used and treated like property. “I’ll be your dog.” I’m only scratching the tip of the Conny iceberg here, but think Special Delivery here (I DNF’d it, but I think it’s close based on the reviews I’ve read).

This particular kind of kink doesn’t really work for me, personally. No judgment to those who partake at all, but it’s just not what I want to read in my romance. However, when executed well, it can really enhance my reading experience. It wasn’t done well here. It took me out of the moments. I didn’t feel the connection between Johann and Conny. I thought the kink was introduced WAY too soon. Johann wasn’t ready. He seemed uncomfortable and only participating to appease Conny. And, MOST IMPORTANTLY, I was told through thoughts and dialogue of their connection and feelings, but never once FELT it for myself.

A lot of the story revolved around the political unrest, which kind of got boring for me after a while. So I’ll rest on 3 stars. It was engaging and smart. I bow down to the world-building. But this one fell flat with execution of the romance. I never felt the romance. And I don’t think I’ll continue with the series, although I’m happy to guess who the next MCs will be.


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Advanced Review Copy

Advanced review copy of Clockwork Heart provided by Samhain Publishing through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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