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A Clockwork’s Critique: A Study In Steampunk – Choice By Gaslight

Type: Interactive Novel
Author: Heather Albano
Where Found: Google Play, Choice of Games, iTunes, The Steam Store


An army surgeon in a time and place vaguely similar to Britain in the 1880s-1890s (and yet not Britain) works to preserve his homeland against the machinations of those who oppose his queen and country. By the end of the story, his actions (guided by you, fair reader) have unforeseen implications on all those he holds dear.


Choice of Games does not disappoint. I have read many of their titles. I have yet to find one I do not like. The author has done a superb job at melding a number of steampunk tropes into this work. You want airships? Check. Disaffected and disgruntled labor movements? Check. Steam-mechs? Sure! Sorcery and intrigue? Yep! All of these elements are woven into a coherent narrative.

The story starts a bit clumsily for my taste. The main empire (Mercia) is a bit too much like Britain – without being Britain – and I initially bogged down trying to understand whether or not the author intended a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure historical novel with steampunk overtones. Once the author’s intent became clear (extremely early on), my enjoyment of the work picked up markedly (within the first page or two).

By the end of the first read-through, I was silently cursing myself at the choices I had made, primarily the one that led to the death of my spouse. I didn’t finish the first read-though, instead opting to start over from the beginning. Despite the problems I had with the opening of the book, I did enjoy it, and I would readily recommend it to others that appreciate interactive novels and steampunk literature.

Where Positives and Negatives Collide:

As I stated, I thought the story was compelling enough to read through a couple of times. It held my interest, and by the end of the story both times I felt extremely world-weary and tired. The author’s writing is solid, and it allowed me to connect with what my character was experiencing at a depth that I am not used to in titles that use the Choice of Games engine.

That being said, I think the story borrowed a bit too much from familiar steampunk conventions without presenting anything particularly new or memorable. As well, I wish that the author had included the ability for the main character of the novel to be either gender. The Victorian Age (in which many steampunk stories find the roots of the cultures they present) was a time of male-supremacy, to be sure. Still, the Victorians were not without women ready to challenge convention – from Susan B. Anthony to Nellie Bly to women like those that fought and died in engagements like the United States Civil War. Granted, the story HAS strong and important female characters. You just can’t be one even if you wanted to.

Allowing the character to be female would have possibly opened up the protagonist to the complex illusions women in combat roles in Victorian societies had to undergo to stay where they thought they should be. Introducing the possibility of a female main character could have exposed the reader to blackmail, unwanted (or wanted!) advances by members of their same biological sex, and made attempts to court characters in the story infinitely more difficult. For me, this element or a host of other changes that could have been tried would have made a good story such as this that much better. I also wish there were more romance choices. Why? Because, it’s romance. Who doesn’t need more romance in their lives?

Just adding this writer’s two cents to a tale already worth far more than its $3.99 price tag. Keep calm, and read on!