Book Review: A Clockwork River – J. S. Emery

Book Review: A Clockwork River – J. S. Emery

Release Date:
October 7th 2021
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Pages: 736
Find it on: Goodreads. BookDepository. Waterstones.
Source: The publisher kindly sent me a copy of this book to review
Rating: 4/5 stars


Lower Rhumbsford is a city far removed from its glory days. On the banks of the great river Rhumb, its founding fathers channelled the river’s mighty flow into a subterranean labyrinth of pipes, valves and sluices, a feat of hydraulic prowess that would come to power an empire. But a thousand years have passed since then, and something is wrong. The pipes are leaking, the valves stuck, the sluices silted. The erstwhile mighty Rhumb is sluggish and about to freeze over for the first time in memory.

In a once fashionable quarter of the once great city, in the once grand ancestral home of a family once wealthy and well-known, live the last descendants of the city’s most distinguished engineer, siblings Samuel and Briony Locke.

Having abandoned his programme in hydraulic engineering, Samuel Locke tends to his vast lock collection, while his sister Briony distracts herself from the prospect of marriage to a rich old man with her alchemical experiments. One night Sam leaves the house carrying five of his most precious locks and doesn’t come back…

As she searches for her brother, Bryony will be drawn into a web of ancestral secrets and imperial intrigues as a ruthless new power arises. If brother and sister are to be reunited, they will need the help of a tight-lipped house spirit, a convict gang, a club of antiques enthusiasts, a tribe of troglodytes, the Ladies Whist Club, the deep state, a traveling theatrical troupe and a lovesick mouse.


A Clockwork River is a beautifully written tale set in the town of Little Rhumbsford. The place is not what it once was and the great feats of engineering that were once infamous have now started to decay and fail. The story follows Sam and Briony Locke, two residents of the town as they find themselves wrapped up in an epic adventure. Sam was once a student of hydraulic engineering and is passionate about locks. When one night Sam goes to give a lecture on his lock collection, he does not come home. His sister Briony,  a young woman fascinated by alchemy, will do anything to avoid marriage to rich old man to save her family home. When she discovers her brother is missing she soon finds herself wrapped up in a web of secrets. Will she be able to uncover the truth and find her brother before it’s too late?

A Clockwork River is a chunky book but this compelling story had me captivated right from the very first chapter. I loved the gorgeous language, the fascinating plot and the intriguing characters. J. S Emery has created a really unique hydro punk world and I constantly wanted to know more and more. It was completely unlike anything I’ve read before and despite it being over 700 pages I ended up reading this in just a few days. The story is charming and excellently plotted, making for a quaint and engaging read.

A Clockwork River has some really fascinating characters and this was the thing that captured my attention most. They felt very realistic as there was an immense amount of depth and character development throughout the story. They felt like real, flawed human beings who sometimes don’t get it right. I particularly liked Briony, she’s a clever young woman, determined to avoid marriage and I enjoyed her character arc the most. There are a whole host of fascinating secondary characters too and Emery has created a brilliant cast of characters.

A Clockwork River is one of those books that’s just a pleasure to read. If you’re looking for a unique fantasy story with beautiful prose and complex characters, this book is a must read.

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