Chosen to become an icarus at age seven, Taya has spent her life as a messenger of the skies. Icarus fly on feather-light wings made of the precious metal ondinium, delivering mail throughout the three provinces of Ondinium: Primus, Secundus, and Tertius. As a way to protect its citizens, Ondinium has been divided into a many-layered social structure teeming with rules and codes of behavior, ranging from the lowest manual laborers to the highest or Exalteds who must wear heavy robes and masks in public to protect their purity (!). As an icarus, Taya is granted the unique position of residing outside of the different castes in order to fulfill her duties as a messenger.
When a cable car malfunctions, Taya is on hand to rescue an exalted and her son which unexpectedly puts her directly in contact with the exalted's family - including the lady's two cousins, the brothers Alister and Cristof Forlore. Both brothers seem interested in Taya and she's not really sure what to make of either of them: Alister the charming and handsome politician or Cristof who has rejected his caste and now fixes clocks in one of the rougher parts of town. Ondinium has always been plagued by spies and terrorists, but when a series of bombings and murders occurs, Taya is forced to work closely with the Forlore brothers who definitely are not what they seem.
This was the first Steampunk novel I've tried and it left me feeling a little underwhelmed. The premise caught my attention quickly enough, however, the characters and plot itself failed to really capture, and ultimately more important, keep my interest. I had to really force myself to continue reading and that's never a good sign. My mind often wandered while reading and I ended up creating all these random connections to other things: the province names Primus, Secundus and Tertius reminded me of the brother's names in Stardust and I kept thinking about the 2000 election and the eternal debate over torn chads every time the Great Engine's programming was explained. (Ondinium uses a type of punch card to run a steam-powered computer/engine.) Taya as a character held much promise on the surface: a girl who files around on metal wings who can cross class lines is a pretty good start, but she just never took flight for me. She had her moments, but I kept wondering how the story would have been handled if another author had written it.
Since one of the components of Steampunk seems to involve romance, I was hoping for a good love story at the least. Again I was disappointed as I never really felt any sort of connection between either of the Forlore brothers and Taya. Not to mention the continual awkwardness of two brothers falling for the same girl. Eek - I wasn't buying it.
Please don't take this to mean Clockwork Heart was all bad - there were plenty of interesting scenes with promise. Overall, I just felt like the story could have been a little tighter. On the plus side, I loved the cover: the wings, the girl with the gear in her chest - awesome. I just kept hoping the story would measure up...