Hullo, friends and frenemies! It’s about time I did a proper book review on my blog. I should give a little backstory about my choice of book first, though. Four years ago, I saw an ad in a kids’ magazine for a cool steampunk-style game called The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance. It quickly became my favorite online game, not just because of the awesome setting, premise, and allegory integrated throughout the storyline, but also because of its wonderful community.
The Aetherlight was a big part of my life for a long time, so when I heard that the creator of the game had released a book set in the same world, I was immediately intrigued. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from The Timekeeper’s Apprentice. As I read the book, I found that it was definitely written for kids, but not low-quality by any means. I enjoyed it immensely.
This review is for anyone interested in the steampunk genre, as well as those who are already fans of The Aetherlight and want to see what the book is all about. I will try my very hardest not to give any major spoilers for the plot. (The backstory that I do provide isn’t much of a spoiler since it is introduced in the first chapter of the book.)
The Timekeeper’s Apprentice by Cornelius Jones is set in Aethasia, a once-beautiful land now shrouded by a sickly green fog. Aethasia was created and ruled by the Great Engineer, whose incredible innovations ran on a potent, highly-efficient power source: Aether. As described in the book, Aether was a form of everlasting energy. Nothing could compare to it. The Great Engineer had designed it to be perfect. Indeed, all of Aethasia was perfect.
Trouble was brewing, however. The apprentice of the Great Engineer, Lucky, formed a plot against the ruler of Aethasia. He pulled many Aethasians into his conspiracy, and they overthrew the Great Engineer, who disappeared in the night. Some said he had abandoned Aethasia forever, but others believed that he would return again someday.
After Lucky usurped the throne of the Great Engineer, he ruled the land with an iron fist, creating legions of mechanical soldiers to do his bidding—automatons. Instead of being powered by Aether, Lucky’s inventions used fogrock. The sickly green fumes emitted by the automatons clouded the minds of the Aethasians, keeping them under Lucky’s control.
Thirty years later, Aethasia and its people are in bad shape. In fact, Barthian’s father Germain has the green lung, a sickness caused by fog that makes him cough day and night. Barthian is the timekeeper’s apprentice; his father has taught him how to fix timepieces of all shapes and sizes. Barthian and Germain have never found a clock they can’t fix—until now. No matter what they do, they can’t figure out what’s wrong with all the broken timepieces flooding into their shop. Every single one is running slow…but why? Is it some sort of sign? What will happen if the clocks stop altogether?
Interwoven with this storyline is another significant subplot. Barthian’s father has run out of the special tonic that he needs to survive. The main ingredient is the rare Aether-rose which only grows in one place: the Giant Seed Forest. Barthian sets off on an expedition to find the healing flower, meeting many new friends—and foes—along the way. During his adventures, he discovers secrets about Aethasia he never imagined. Aethasia’s timepieces are counting down to an event of great significance, and Barthian is watching the mystery unfold right before his eyes.
What I liked most…
This book has many strong points, including plot, humor, writing style, description, and setting. I will touch on each one briefly.
Plot and Humor
First, everything introduced in the story had a purpose. Sometimes authors include irrelevant subplots within the main narrative, but every single plot point woven throughout this book was resolved in the end while also making it feel like there was more of the story to be explored in later books.
Second, the humor is great. Even though this book is often serious in tone, it still has an undercurrent of mirth. Each case of situational irony or line of lighthearted dialogue was so well-executed that I couldn’t help but chuckle. Something comedic would spring up at just the right moment to lighten the heaviness of a situation (e.g., one character giving his friends quirky nicknames, the humorous portrayal of two villains, and even the way someone primly sips his tea).
Style, Description, and Setting
The author has a very clean, vibrant writing style that flows easily between action and dialogue. Because the book is written mainly for kids, it’s not long-winded or unnecessarily wordy, yet it still manages to spark the imagination with vivid description and dialogue. My favorite aspect of the author’s writing style is the way he describes scenery. It’s really immersive, making the world of Aethasia come alive.
The fascinating steampunk world of Aethasia includes many gadgets and inventions such as airships, automatons, and steamboats, and the author uses them to their fullest potential. I may be a bit biased since I have played the Aetherlight game before, but I found the book’s various locations (No Man’s Landing, the Aetherswell, the Giant Seed Forest, etc.) enchanting. For me, it was like stepping into the world and reliving the quest of the game all over again in an entirely new and unique way.
What I did not like so very much…
The characters, continuity, and theme of the story could have been better. Of all the characters, Barthian was strongest and most realistic. Driven by his desire to help his father, he had to make many difficult decisions and face a lot of fears. The main villain of the book, Zaul Grimm, was also well-written. Nelly and Salmon (called that because no one can pronounce his real name, Solomon, properly) were good characters, but lacked real depth and motivation and seemed to serve little purpose except to drive the plot and provide comic relief.
Additionally, the book contained some minor continuity errors that disrupted the flow of the story. For example, two characters choose to go to the beach instead of working on an important project that is due the next day, something blatantly out of character for both of them. When later they are confronted by automatons, there is a time jump between chapters that leaves the details of their escape highly ambiguous. Most casual readers wouldn’t be bugged by this, but I enjoy it when a story has continuity.
I believe these errors could have been fixed by simply making the book a little longer. At 160 pages, it’s the bare bones of a story, with a concise plot and no unnecessary rabbit trails. While this is good, I believe the book could have benefited from a few extra details to flesh out certain scenes, though the story still makes sense without them.
A final complaint I have with the book is the lack of a prominent theme. Certainly, there are a lot of smaller themes woven throughout the story, but none of them go very deep—again probably due to the brevity of the book. Among these themes are “keeping the memory of the past alive,” “the power of friendship and love in a world where suspicion and hate run rampant,” and “the importance of not letting fear paralyze you.” Instead of skimming the surface of these ideas, the author should probably have chosen one to delve deeply into throughout the book.
The Timekeeper’s Apprentice is an excellent book with an enchanting setting, riveting plot, dynamic humor, and a concise, vivid writing style. Despite its shortcomings, I enjoyed the book immensely. It had me enthralled within ten pages, and I was loath to stop reading until the end. I highly recommend the book to all fans of The Aetherlight and the steampunk genre in general. For those who play the game, the book gives new insight into Aethasia’s history and culture, and introduces many never-before-seen locations. Even if you don’t play the game, the book is still a good read—short but sweet.
The Timekeeper’s Apprentice possesses a rare sort of magic, skillfully immersing readers in the world of Aethasia and instilling within them a yearning to be part of its incredible story. Go check it out! You won’t be disappointed.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, Lightbringers!