Review: Clockwork Heart

cover-clockwork heartTitle: Clockwork Heart
Author: Heidi Cullinan
Series: Clockwork Love #1
Genre: M/M Steampunk
Length: Novel
Available: Feb 2nd

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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.


Source: ARC from Samhain Publishing via NetGalley

This turn of the twentieth-century, alt-history Steampunk adventure ticks so many of my happy boxes for this subgenre – not least because of airships, amazing world-building and enough clockwork to keep the universe whirring. It’s fast-paced, has spies and soldiers and pirates and sybarites, copious amounts of drinking, lots of exhibitionist sex and is, above all, loads of fun.

Conny is young and idealistic, as well as talented and beautiful. Yet he’s surprisingly naive considering the fact that his father is the warmonger of Europe and his mother is a world-class spy. He’s also exceedingly open about his desires and definitely likes a bit of rough, well, a lot of rough. Usually at once. Yet, oddly, he’s also kind of innocent. He’s good and sweet at heart and all he wants is for the world to be a better, nicer place.

I loved the early days of his relationship with Johann. They’re not at all alike on the surface – Johann being big, older than he seems, patient, seemingly simple (but not stupid), and a whole lot more practical in his outlook on life. Yet there’s an innocence about him too. He’s had a very sheltered, conservative upbringing and he’s very shy. The two of them couldn’t be more different, yet together they are adorable. I loved their early days when the language barrier was still between them, with how eager Johann was to please and how careful Conny was not to go too far or make him uncomfortable.

Of course the cute and innocent nature of their relationship doesn’t last long. There’s plenty of sex in this book, some of it really full on. Johann’s complete lack of experience doesn’t get much of a consideration because Conny’s kink is so far in the opposite direction. Johann’s eyes are opened very quickly indeed, and sometimes I wish he’d been given more of a chance to let his head catch up, because his horizons expand fast.

The things Conny prefers also made for slightly uncomfortable reading at one point for me, because even though he loves it all, boundaries are definitely pushed. True, Conny doesn’t seem to have any boundaries, but still, if dubious consent bothers you, there’s one big scene that skates pretty close to it – or at least seems to from the general addled point of view. Actually, that whole scene didn’t work for me. Not so much because of what happens with Conny (since he loves it), but it didn’t feel right for Johann. (*Spoiler* Although Johann is curious before this, it’s not until he’s off his face on cocaine-laced absinthe that he gives in – and that bothered me quite a bit.)

Away from the romance the action bounds along, meaning there is never a dull moment. There’s not really any mystery to the whole thing, but it’s exciting and dangerous and enjoyable. It’s a little more straightforward than most steampunk I’ve read, but the world is glorious, the alt-history worked pretty well and there’s a wonderful motley crew of characters that definitely have me interested in the rest of the series.

So, if you’re looking for a different sort of M/M read, or you like your steampunk with plenty of kink, then you may well enjoy this. The romance could possibly have done with a little more love to go with all the sex, but if fast, fun and clockwork are your thing, then consider those boxes well and truly ticked.


Clockwork Heart is out February 2nd!
Visit Heidi Cullinan for more details.

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