Timepiece is a new steampunk novel by Heather Albano about giant robots, a time-travelling pocket watch, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Battle of Waterloo. As of this writing, it’s also less than a dollar on Amazon Kindle (where I had the pleasure of enjoying it), Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. I think that’s enough to sell the book, but for more details you can read on.
And they came.
Out of the wood, through the trees, and down the road, huge slavering things marched in something approximating formation. The flesh of their faces hung slack off the bone, and drool trailed from the corner of the mouths they could not completely close. Their overlong arms and thrust-forward necks strained at the fabric of a simplified private soldier’s uniform. A mockery of the uniform, it had been called by some. –quotation from Timepiece
Full disclosure: I went to middle school with Heather, at Talcott Mountain Academy in Connecticut. For a school devoted to teaching gifted kids the love of science, it turned out a number of English nerds including myself, Heather, and Kate Sheehan, the Loose Cannon Librarian. Heather and I talked again a few years after at a party hosted by Kate, and I developed an enduring literary crush on her. It’s been a pleasure to watch her succeed first at interactive fiction and now with this novel.
The thing which stands out most for me about Timepiece is actually its limited scope. A lot of time travel novels explore a broad era, or bounce between modern days and the past. Instead, this novel almost entirely limits its action to the 19th century, beginning with Napoleon’s defeat at the hands of an army of the undead and ending with an 1885-era London patrolled by steam-powered police robots armed with gatling guns. This allows Albano to deeply explore the era and the huge changes it brought to conventional history as well as her alternate version.
The story begins when a young, sheltered woman mysteriously receives the strange titular pocket watch. Along with a companion — a young soldier maimed by war — they find themselves mistakenly sent to dystopian London and embroiled in a conflict that spans a hundred years. Steampunk lovers will adore the book’s fashion aesthetic and theme, Horror fans will enjoy the shout-out to the genre’s progenitor, and the time travel mechanics are intriguing and mysterious. There’s even a bit of a romance. It reminded me favorably of John Crowley’s World Fantasy Award-winning time-travel novella, “Great Work of Time.”
Heather has made a deliberate choice to self-publish this book, a choice she calls the crazy option; I hope this review will encourage more people to support her. This story is not complete — Timepiece ends on a cliffhanger. Heather promises the sequel, Timekeeper, in 2012. Even for those adverse to unfinished series, I felt like the characters accomplished so much that the ending was satisfying. It is the consequences of those accomplishments that the sequel will explore, a sequel I await with excitement.