Author: Philip Pullman
Age Range: 11-13 (from Scholastic)
Interest Range: 11-13
Genre: Adventure, Horror
Plot: Karl, an apprentice clockmaker, has fallen behind in his duties. Tomorrow he is supposed to unveil a new figure in the town’s very impressive giant cuckoo clock as his final apprenticeship project. He has not completed anything, and is drowning his sorrows at the local pub. While there, the town’s resident writer, Fritz, has started telling his latest ghost story aloud to the townspeople- a story about humans with clockwork features. But just as he is describing the clever (and creepy) doctor in his story, that very same man appears in the flesh. The townspeople are terrified and all leave for their homes. The storyteller is spooked, because he never finished his story and doesn’t know what will happen next, and makes to leave town. Karl is at the bar, completely unaware of what is happening around him. The clever doctor offers Karl a solution to his problem: a figure in the shape of a knight, who is set in motion whenever someone speaks the word “devil”. And what does the figure do? He kills whoever speaks the word that starts his movements. Only one thing will stop the knight in his tracks: singing a very specific song. Will Karl decide to use the figure to save his own face in front of the townspeople, and risk someone’s possible death? Or will someone else have to save the town from the wrath of this evil clockwork figure?
Review: I normally really enjoy Pullman’s stories. His Dark Materials was a wonderful series, and I also really enjoyed his Sally Lockhart mysteries when I was growing up. This story seemed rather flat. I couldn’t tell if it was supposed to be recounting some kind of fairytale and attempting to weave it into a “real-life” story, or if the side tale of the prince was supposed to be something that Fritz had made up completely and then it all came to life. If made to choose, I would guess it’s the latter. If the reader in question likes a suspenseful story, or even ghost stories, I think this book would sit well with most. It is short, and therefore not daunting and definitely approachable for more reluctant readers. The illustrations are also creepy and add a nice touch. Overall, not my favorite. If I was going to hand someone one of Pullman’s books, it would definitely be The Golden Compass over this one.
Themes: Taking responsibility for your actions, Courage and Honor, Friendship
Author facts: Philip Pullman is most well known for the Golden Compass, the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy.
Karl: The apprentice clockmaker who has slacked off and not completed his assignment.
Fritz: The town storyteller who conjures up Dr. Kalmenius.
Dr. Kalmenius: the doctor, in Fritz’s story, who created the clockwork Prince Florian who grows into a real human boy. He also created Sir Ironsoul.
Sir Ironsoul: The murderous clockwork knight.
Prince Florian: A baby who is brought to life with clockwork, and who’s life is extended by the gift of his father’s beating heart. He saves young Gretl from Sir Ironsoul and she in turn helps him become a real human being.
Gretl: The young serving girl at the local pub. She finds Sir Ironsoul and knows his secret. Also she risks her life to save Prince Florian.
Pullman, P. (1996). Clockwork. New York: Scholastic Press.
Can a clockwork figure really have a mind of its own?