Format read: ebook provided by publisher
Release Date: 1 April 2012
Publisher: Red Sage Publishing
Genre: steampunk erotic romance
Formats available: ebook
Purchasing Info: Goodreads, Author’s Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Matthew Goddard is a lonely watchmaker in 1840, New England. One fateful day, he discovers the lover of his dreams in a dusty corner of the local general store—Isabel, a bisque porcelain mannequin head with mesmerizing, smoky blue eyes. When Matthew invites her to come live with him, she eagerly “accepts.”
The couple embarks on a lust-filled affair, one fueled by Matthew’s wild imagination. In order to provide Isabel with a brass body and pretty clothes, he begins a secret side business selling clockwork sex toys to his wealthy female customers.
Danger, however, threatens their idyllic romance when a disgruntled customer exposes Matthew’s forbidden business to the townspeople. Despite the growing menace, Matthew will stop at nothing in order to save his soul mate—and protect their love.
Stella: I’ll start with a confession: I’m a steampunk virgin. Well, almost. So far I have only read one steampunk novella and it was tiny, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I sure was excited to discover the exciting world and unusual story created by Heather Massey in The Watchmaker’s Lady.
Alisha: Perfect that we’re doing a dual, Stella. I’m a huuuuge fan of all things steampunk. If it has gears and gadgets and period clothing, I’m all over it. ^_^
Stella: Ooh that’s great then, people will get the opinion of a newbie and a seasoned steampunk fan! 🙂 So as a big steampunk reader, tell me what did you think of The Watchmaker’s Lady?
Alisha: I must say, that even having read a lot of steampunk and clockpunk–including of the romantic variety–I was way surprised by The Watchmaker’s Lady. To say that it is atypical and original is an understatement! It’s actually quite difficult to describe, much less review.
Stella: I agree! It is nothing like I have read or heard of! If I had to sum it up in a few words I would say it is a cross between a steampunk Pygmalion and blow-up doll story, but that would be a completely inadequate description as you would miss all the nuances that make The Watchmaker’s Lady so much more than that.
Alisha: Right. The use of Pygmalion mythology is the first thing that jumps out at the reader: gifted artisan that is lonely and decides to create his own perfect partner using his artistic gifts. What really starts to set the story apart from that initial trope is its depiction in explicitly sensual terms. For at least the first half of the book, Matthew’s unique partnership is framed in a purely sexual context. At first, I thought, “Is this a romance?” lol
Stella: I know exactly what you mean Alisha! Though a week has gone by since I finished reading it I still can’t decide how I feel about The Watchmaker’s Lady. On the one hand Matthew’s highly dysfunctional sexual fantasies and relationship and romantic delusions made me worry about his sanity, but on the other hand if you don’t get stuck on these and are able to forsake reality it truly becomes a uniquely romantic tale.
Alisha: There’s something rather bold and brave about the direction the author took, I must admit.
Stella: *nods enthusiastically* I agree! I think Heather Massey is a visionary and her imagination is stunning. Maybe at times hard to follow, but stunning nonetheless. 😀
Alisha: In choosing to take the route of having a human hero and an inanimate object as a heroine, she’s created several levels of perception and visualization. At all times, I felt this dual awareness–much like Matthew did–of the fact that he was both romancing an object and discovering a true partnership with another entity. But with Massey’s visuals, the conversations and interactions seemed very much alive and real. I think of it as a “veil” of awareness, in which a complex illusion delicately lays over reality. This book certainly asks a lot of the reader in terms of imagination and buying into the fantasy. ^_^
Stella: You put it beautifully Alisha! Yes, Heather Massey weaves her narrative masterfully as not only Matthew the hero battles to maintain the boundaries between reality and illusions, but even the reader starts to get confused as to what is exactly real and what is just imagined as the lines between the two become more and more blurry…
Until that kiss, part of him had been aware that Isabel’s voice in his head was his own invention, that he was indulging in a prolonged daydream, but now the boundary between reality and imagination disappeared altogether. At once, he sank into a wild, exuberant fantasy.
Alisha: I must admit that I felt the story didn’t actually *need* the heavy erotic element. Sometimes, it seemed to almost get in the way–I kept trying to work out the mechanics (“how much of X is he actually doing?”), and got tripped up in the process, pulled out of that very delicate balance of reality. Obviously, this book is meant to be romantica (so it has to qualify as having certain elements). But I thought the romantic elements, which didn’t kick in until later, was where the real interested stuff was–the romance, the emotion…that created its own shocking impact.
Stella: Though the sensual scenes were well written, somehow I just couldn’t not think about the fact that he was doing that with an inanimate doll… and so the physical, sexual part of their romance was maybe the most disturbing part for me.
Alisha: Right. It was certainly the most challenging aspect. But I did appreciate how the author gives that particular aspect more depth by touching upon some of the factors that brought Matthew to his general disdain for humankind and his kinship with automata. Like when he reflects upon memories of his father’s brutal threats and punishments against what should have been normal human development for Matthew. There was a lot of valuable emotional import there.
Stella: What kept the sex scenes from turning icky was how much emotion Heather Massey put behind them. Matthew was a good and honest man with a generous heart and need for love. And since he didn’t find an actual human being he could love, he invested an inanimate object with his affection. And the depth of his feelings, the way he wove himself more and more into the webs of his delusion as if he were sinking in a swamp made me feel worried about him and how crushed he will be once he realizes that the doll he fell in love with is not the living, breathing person of his daydreams.
Alisha: Once the romance kicked into full gear (later in the story)…I was rather intrigued. Impressed, too. Because it was a mind-bending trip when even Matthew started to find himself unsure of what was real and what wasn’t; including the truth of his feelings for Isabel. And he did care. To see the depth of his emotions about Isabel–he would do anything for her!–well, I was fascinated. That was where the “veil of awareness” truly shined.
Stella: And once again where my heart squeezed for fear for Matthew’s sanity and potential heartbreak. He really gave himself over completely to his love for Isabel; he was utterly devoted to her, his whole life, his every day was centered around Isabel and to making her happy.
Alisha: Aw. ^_^ Definitely. I really liked the later parts of the story; once the various plot threads started to come together, this tale was like watching a Quentin Tarantino movie. ^_^ Again, the author’s flair for visuals benefitted her well here.
Stella: The ending was quite an unexpected twist and resolution to the culminating catharsis. I still have a lot of questions and comments regarding the resolution, but as we certainly don’t want to spoil it for you, I’ll keep mum 😉
Alisha: Agreed!!!! For sooo many reasons, I would HIGHLY recommend reading the WHOLE book (no DNFing!) Mum’s the word from Stella and me…until you read this yourself! Then you’ve got to let us know what you thought. ^_^
Stella: The Watchmaker’s Lady was my (almost) introduction to steampunk/clockpunk and I have to say the small details Heather Massey infused her romance with regarding the worldbuilding, the machinery and Matthew’s love for watches and their mechanics was fascinating. With wonderfully smooth and evocative writing Heather Massey took me to an amazing and foreign world which I found enthralling. The idea of Matthew’s delusions/hallucinations had me worried about what the outcome and HEA could be but once again Heather Massey surprised me.
The Watchmaker’s Lady is a story like no other, it will keep you guessing your sanity and yourself, but I still urge you to try it, at least you’ll discover a truly unique steampunk story!
I give The Watchmaker’s Lady 4 stars!
Alisha: This is one crazy, weird, challenging story (don’t say I didn’t warn you! ^_^). The emotional exploration is truly unique, making for an unforgettable experience. I personally could have done without the very *heavy* focus on erotic elements early on (crazy, I know!); trying to figure out the visuals in the context of a dual-reality was rather tricky….and to me, the character dynamics were already fascinating as it was. But nonetheless, this tale is anything but boring, typical, and predictable.
I give The Watchmaker’s Lady 3.5 stars!
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.