Sunday, February 1, 2015


In Ticker, by Lisa Mantchev, we follow Penelope Farthing (who rides a motorized velocipede, lol), her twin brother, and their friends on a romp of suspense and intrigue as they try to track down the Farthings' kidnapped parents and the now-madman who was once the family's trusted friend and physician.  

Penny was born with the same defect of the heart which claimed the lives of both her sisters; after a traumatic accident, Warwick surgically removed Penny's biological heart and implanted what was only meant to be a prototype of its eventual clockwork replacement.  However, when the truth comes out about how Warwick developed and tested the clockwork "Ticker" on people he abducted off the street, the family is shocked, and Penny becomes unkindly known as the first of the "augmented" - an abomination in the eyes of some.  But Warwick's trial is underway; maybe once he has been convicted, the family can begin to move on and try to find some peace.

The day of the verdict goes anything but smooth, however - there's an explosion at the Farthing family's factory, where Penny was on her way to meet her brother.  On top of this, their parents have been abducted, and the ransom demands not money, but the family's Augmentation research.  With what seems a little twist at every turn, will Penny and her friends be able to find her parents before any harm comes to them?  Will she even be able to solve this before her worn-out prototype Ticker finally gives out?

Her prototype clockwork heart might be delicate, but Penelope Farthing is not.  She is every bit the fashionable yet sassy young woman I would expect a female steampunk protagonist to be, even if constantly referring to her heart as her "Ticker" - capitalized and all - got kind of annoying to me.  Is "Ticker" its trade name?  Or did she just randomly name it that, in the way people sometimes name certain other intimate body parts?  I mean, I get that this is the title of the book, but come ON.  I tried not to let this get to me, though, as it is a relatively minor point.

Ticker starts out with what feels like an over-abundance of description.  Everything in Penny's immediate surroundings is described with such detail that it ended up feeling more forced to me than anything else, particularly with regard to the gadgets and gizmos aplenty.  My guess is that Mantchev was trying to get across the steampunk world-building, but it doesn't feel genuine to me for a character who comes across these types of things in everyday life to go on about them in such detail.  This is the first steampunk novel that I've read, so I don't know whether this is typical of the genre, but I think it could probably have been done in a more subtle way.  Once the story really started kicking into gear (lol), though, some of the more technical things about the writing stopped sticking out at me so much.

I enjoyed Penny, for the most part.  She doesn't shrink away from life; rather, she charges forward head-on at full speed - maybe this is partly to do with the fact that she has already had to come to terms with the very real possibility of dropping dead at a moment's notice, so what would be the use of not making every moment count.  Plus, she is the kind of lady who, when dressing up fancy, makes the practical (and tactical) decision to wear pants underneath her dress.  But her friend Violet Nesselrode is no shrinking violet either (lol again); she charges right into the action as well, no questions asked and not a second's hesitation.  No matter how good a friend someone is, it's still not easy to come by that level of loyalty in someone.  I almost liked Violet a bit better than Penny, truth be told.  Very no-nonsense sort of woman, and although she is romantically involved with Penny's brother, there are no romantic scenes, which would have felt out-of-place to me in this type of novel, considering the circumstances.  Violet has moments where her love for Nic pushes her forward, but it is a motivation, and it fuels her.  She is not the one being saved here.  Also, with her fashion choices, she certainly puts the "punk" in "steampunk."

And while we are now on the subject of romance...there is some insta-love action between Penny and Marcus, the young head of the military police force.  I don't care for this trope in any type of novel, but it seemed particularly unnecessary here.  Now, I'm not saying there shouldn't have been any romance between them at all - just that it really did not need to happen in this way.  I came to understand why Marcus may have had some instant attraction to Penny, after certain things were revealed (which I will not go into here, in case it might be a spoiler to some).  But I don't feel that Penny had any reason to feel so instantly attracted to Marcus.  This part of the story would have played out much better had Penny been able to develop feelings naturally through the course of the adventure, having been thrown into each other's company.  In fact, while reading, I actually pinpointed the exact moment I felt it would have made sense for Penny to suddenly realize the truth or depth of her feelings for Marcus, and it was NOT at the start of their acquaintanceship.

Marcus, though, was the other character I ended up liking best.  The kid's got a lot going on, and if this turns out to be a series, I think there is definitely room for a lot of character development with him and Penny both.  There seemed to be some unresolved romantic tension between Penny and Sebastian, so there is some potential for further exploration there as well.  I just hope if this does end up being a thing, that it doesn't fall completely down the romantic triangle rabbit-hole and end up in some Team SparkleVamp/Team HulkWolf kind of place.

Each of the main characters has some wit, intelligence, and depth to them; and although world-building descriptions could have been taken down a notch, I will say that Mantchev surprised me a little by adding elements that I would not have thought to connect with the steampunk genre, such as tasers, flying vehicles which are not airships, and fortresses powered by material mined from distant lands.

I don't really have too much else to say about Ticker, apart from the fact that once the story actually got going and I'd gotten past the mire of description, I rather enjoyed it.  It became a fun read, and it's a book that I think would translate very well to a film adaptation if done properly.  I look forward to reading more from this genre in the future.




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