ARC: Ticker by Lisa Mantchev

 Title: Ticker

 Series: Standalone

 Author: Lisa Mantchev

 Genre: steampunk, fantasy

 Rating: ★★¾

 In short: definitely not what I was looking forward to. Characters I couldn’t really connect to, world-building that is heavy but in-your-face, and romances I didn’t care for.

GoodreadsA girl with a clockwork heart must make every second count.

When Penny Farthing nearly dies, brilliant surgeon Calvin Warwick manages to implant a brass “Ticker” in her chest, transforming her into the first of the Augmented. But soon it’s discovered that Warwick killed dozens of people as he strove to perfect another improved Ticker for Penny, and he’s put on trial for mass murder.

On the last day of Warwick’s trial, the Farthings’ factory is bombed, Penny’s parents disappear, and Penny and her brother, Nic, receive a ransom note demanding all of their Augmentation research if they want to see their parents again. Is someone trying to destroy the Farthings…or is the motive more sinister?

Desperate to reunite their family and rescue their research, Penny and her brother recruit fiery baker Violet Nesselrode, gentleman-about-town Sebastian Stirling, and Marcus Kingsley, a young army general who has his own reasons for wanting to lift the veil between this world and the next. Wagers are placed, friends are lost, romance stages an ambush, and time is running out for the girl with the clockwork heart.

Let it be known that I love a little weird in my novels. That was why Lisa Mantchev’s Théâtre Illuminata series appealed to me so much. I was very excited for Ticker, because steampunk has always intrigued me. But this? This was a very sad sad face.

I’ll start with the good. It’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into the world of Ticker. Clockwork horses, velocipedes, and novel advertisements place it firmly in industrial boom. But though you can tell it’s deep, I feel like the important questions about the setting weren’t really answered. What are the Ferrum Viriae? At first I thought the city of Bazalgate was pseudo-London, but it’s not the capital of the empire. They use ancient Greek currency (denarii, aureii) and I wasn’t sure if that meant it was an alternate history thing or a completely different universe. There’s very little about the Great Beyond, while most steampunk novels explain the aether or whatever it is that allows these people to have technology way beyond what we had circa 1800. Also there’s so much new technology introduced but there’s absolutely zero explanation for the way most of it works. I hate to say this, but it sounds like a blunt attempt to fit into the steampunk genre without bothering to explain any science.

The characters didn’t really stand out to me either. Penny has good lines, I’ll admit, lines that made me smile, but looking back on it, she felt rather like a puppet for those bursts of wit. Nic was an absolute enigma. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out the Nic-Penny dynamic—they’re supposed to be close but he ‘blames’ her, he deeply resents her, in the beginning of the novel they’re a bit nervy around each other. Not the kind of close family bond that Penny had implied. Violet too seems like a hollow bundle of spunk, and Penny seems to spend more time with Marcus than her best friend. Where was the indication that Vi and Penny were best friends? We just had to take Penny’s word for it. Marcus didn’t feel original to me either. Very duty-bound YA male lead, etc. etc., like These Broken Stars‘s Tarver without the punch and depth. Although of course this isn’t as serious a novel. But several of these characters have gone through very traumatic experiences, and their personalities didn’t seem to reflect that. I liked Sebastian, but (again!) the person Penny said he was at the start of the novel was very different from the person he seemed to be. He’s introduced as Nic’s best friend, a troublemaker. And by the middle he’s apparently a ruthless businessman? I felt a bit cheated with him, as though I was introduced to one person and then an entirely different character acted all that out. (And not because of the plot.)

The romances? Forced. Violet and Nic felt very unnecessary. Literally, without them being involved the story would have progressed much the same, and without so much added angst. Marcus and Penny were another thing. Penny’s instant connection when they meet kind of made dread pool in my stomach. Thankfully the lurve toned down later, and they don’t kiss until much later, but I was still shaken from that first meeting. The love-at-first-sight plot isn’t one I’m fond of. Lisa Mantchev gave me a very sweet response when I expressed my concerns about it on the Twitterverse, but…still not buying it. If Penny really felt a connection to Marcus, I think it ought to have been expressed better not in her inner monologue, but in her interactions with him. Why did she treat him à la Elizabeth Bennet? I just didn’t get it.

I really wanted to like this book. I originally gave it a 3.5 until I started writing this review and realised I couldn’t really find things to give it that high a rating. The dialogue was nice, if a bit contrived, and the world was nice, but I can’t say anything more than ‘nice’. Disappointing.

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