Review of Clockwork Heart (Clockwork Love #1), by Heidi Cullinan

Clockwork HeartClockwork Heart, by Heidi Cullinan, is one of many books I bought in the sale Samhain Publishing had last year, when they claimed to be closing.

Description from Goodreads:
As the French army leader’s bastard son, Cornelius Stevens enjoys a great deal of latitude. But when he saves an enemy soldier using clockwork parts, he’s well aware he risks hanging for treason. That doesn’t worry him half as much, however, as the realization he’s falling for his patient.

Johann Berger never expected to survive his regiment’s suicide attack on Calais, much less wake up with mechanical parts. To avoid discovery, he’s forced to hide in plain sight as Cornelius’s lover—a role Johann finds himself taking to surprisingly well.

When a threat is made on Cornelius’s life, Johann learns the secret of the device implanted in his chest—a mythical weapon both warring countries would kill to obtain. Caught up in a political frenzy, in league with pirates, dodging rogue spies, mobsters and princesses with deadly parasols, Cornelius and Johann have no time to contemplate how they ended up in this mess. All they know is, the only way out is together—or not at all.

It kept me entertained for an evening, but I didn’t love it. I struggled with the first half a lot. I felt like the challenge of narrating a story in English, with one character that spoke French and another that spoke German left Cullinan no choice but to tell everything and show almost nothing. Honestly, I almost just gave up on the book. But eventually, after the two men had lived together for months, one finally mentioned he spoke English and the other went, “Oh, I do too.” As if you wouldn’t try every language you know, especially if you speak several, to communicate with the person you’re living with!

Basically, that is the level of believability with this story. I had to suspend a lot of disbelief as either irrational, overly convenient, or just basically unbelievable things happened over and over. This extended to the characters too. I couldn’t get down with Conny’s kinky side. I actually really like that Cullinan allowed a main character to be a slutty, exhibitionist, submissive and allowed a successful romantic pairing that didn’t end in monogamy, but was still presented as good. However, outside of the bedroom (or wherever they were getting down) he came across as a fairly staid, straight-laced sort of chap. So, when he broke out the dirty talk and kinky sex it was jarring. Similarly, I struggled with Johann’s age. He felt much older than 18, but having been in both the army and a pirate, I couldn’t really believe him to have been as oblivious to sex as he is presented as. The villain is evil just because he’s evil. Side characters make amazing sacrifices for unknown reasons, etc.

Again, my point is just that there were a lot of things I had to consciously tell myself to overlook in order to enjoy the story. I did enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong. The writing is good, outside of the clunky language issues. The characters are likable, even if their love for one another is a little too solid a little too easily. I like the pairing that was set up for the sequel. I’d read it, happily. But the book didn’t stand out as stellar.

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