Review: Timekeeper by Tara Sim

“Danny wasn’t prepared for it—the reminder that Colton was not like him, that his palms were smooth and free of flaws, that his wrist showed no veins, that his mouth tasted of copper and of sweet clean air. He was a boy of air and dust and sunlight. Everything that had gone into the making of the world.”

Timekeeper, Tara Sim’s debut novel, follows Danny Hart, a clock mechanic of prodigious talent. At seventeen, he is one of the youngest mechanics, but that’s not all that sets him apart from his colleagues. When we meet Danny at the start of the novel, he has just come out of a traumatic event while fixing a clock tower’s mechanism. The scar on his chin is only the physical indication that Danny survived a bombing, but Danny’s friends and superiors seem to know that that the event has also left him with scars that cannot be seen. Fixing Colton tower in the town of Enfield is Danny’s first assignment since the bombing and a test of sorts–a way to gauge if he’s managing his anxiety well enough to perform his job to perfection.

With the help of his seemingly hapless assistant, Brandon Summers, Danny successfully finishes–only to be called back to Enfield again and again. While on assignment to yet again fix the clock that seems to be breaking with a certain obstinance, Danny meets a boy, completely different from the boy who had been helping him at the tower, who also calls himself Brandon Summers. Danny quickly figures out that the golden-haired* boy he had been working with previously was actually the clock tower’s spirit. It’s a fact that Danny is struggling to come to terms with as clock spirits were widely considered to be fiction, used mainly as a detail in cautionary tales to warn mechanics from getting too attached to the towers they fix–which makes things even more worrisome, since Danny’s feelings for the clock spirit known as Colton are undeniably real.

In this alternate universe Victorian England, Tara Sim expertly weaves together fairy tales and Greek mythology to create a world where time can bend, snap, and even be stopped. Humans who can sense the threads of time are the only ones qualified to “fix” time, humans like Danny and his father who, for the last three years of Danny’s life, has been frozen in a town where time has been Stopped. The novel has a steampunk aesthetic, though I would not necessarily classify it as such. It is, at its core, a very human story about grief, trauma, and betrayal, as well as the things that take you by surprise, like love (in case anyone’s concerned, this is a no-queerbaiting/hella-gay romance) and, my favourite, the various shades of friendship: from the bro-y relationship that Danny and real!Brandon share, to the cool professionalism and respect that binds Danny and Daphne together, and the sibling-like relationship that Danny and Cassie have. The mythological aspects of the novel are introduced in gentle waves of exposition that definitely alter the way Danny’s own story unfolds, but never really obstruct his story.

In terms of the romance, there were aspects of Danny and Colton’s relationship that concerned me in the beginning. For instance, the fact that Colton is both an object and a person complicates how Danny’s views him. It sometimes felt like Danny was objectifying and/or patronizing Colton, BUT! this is an issue that is tackled through a parallel relationship in the novel and, I feel, will continue to be explored in the sequels. Another aspect I’m looking forward to seeing more of in the sequels is the idea of the exchange program that is only introduced in Timekeeper. I like when novels set in historic Britain acknowledge colonization and colonies, which Timekeeper definitely does, but I think the next book, Chainbreaker, may dive deeper into the realities of the British Raj, maybe even taking into account what it would be like if a mechanic from Delhi gets to work in London for a while. So, while I really enjoyed Timekeeper I think I’m going to fall head-over-heels for Chainbreaker. *sigh* I’m so ready for it, you guys.

Overall, Timekeeper is one of my favourite things I’ve read/listened to this summer. It’s packed with All The Feels, and yet manages to be light, bright, and pleasingly complex. If you’re into audiobooks, I highly recommend this one read by Gary Furlong. He’s a pleasure to listen to and gets the voices so right.

Highly recommended. 🙂

*not a fan of this description, but by all accounts, Colton is an ethereal being and demands a descriptor that isn’t just “blond” *shrug*