cover image The Clockwork Empire

The Clockwork Empire

Lucas J.W. Johnson. Fireside Fiction, $14.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-73415-496-2

Johnson (Azrael’s Stop) crafts a thrilling steampunk adventure set in a world in which the Roman Empire never fell. As the industrial revolution sweeps through Rome, sickly former noble Julian is forced into indentured servitude and made to assist in his master’s horrifying experiments: “remaking” human bodies with clockwork. After Julian himself becomes a test subject, waking from surgery with mechanical organs that give him superior strength, he flees the doctor and reconnects with Gaius, his former slave who soon becomes his lover. Meanwhile, Lia Song, a truth-seeking praetorian guard aboard an enormous flying fortress, earns the ire of power-hungry Senator Vivarius, who conspires to make her an outlaw. As Vivarius consolidates power via propaganda, false flag operations, and other shady dealings, Lia and her allies go on the run—and meet Julian and Gaius. Together, they realize Vivarius’s connection to the “remaking” experiments and hatch a plan to expose him by conning their way into Vivarius’s gambling house. The ambitious worldbuilding, including clockwork drones and a still thriving Aztec Empire, fits smoothly alongside scenes of tense action and Julian and Gaius’s tender romance, though the ethics of their power-imbalanced relationship go underexplored. Fans of steampunk and alternate history will lap this up. (June)