Healing magic is usually, to put it bluntly, boring. Hands are laid, wounds are healed, and *poof* on we go. Granted, that’s all the author is usually looking for, a cheap plot device to keeps things moving despite the heroes’ mounting injuries. So it’s refreshing to see a magic system that is focused on healing, central to the plot, and actually interesting. Octavio Leander is a medician (great neologism, by the way). Not only is she a medician, she is the most talented medician of her time. Which is how she finds herself on an airship with someone who wants her dead and someone who just wants to kidnap her.
The Clockwork Dagger has a lot going for it. Octavia is an interesting, endearing protagonist. Alfonso is an effective, attractive love interest. The magic system is inventive and helps drive the plot without being a mere plot device. Cato hints at a lot of subgenres—romance, steampunk, dieselpunk, weird western—in intriguing ways. It also has much of the trappings of a locked room mystery as Octavia comes under attack during the course of the airship trip. And that’s where The Clockwork Dagger really stumbles. Hinting at genres finally catches up to Cato, as it doesn’t really work as a mystery. And despite a deft hand by Cato at leaving chapters on cliffhangers, the book as a whole lacks urgency. It’s eminently put-downable, which is a grievous sin, even weighed against many positive traits. And the worldbuilding, outside of the magic system, still shows pencil lines.
Oh, and it has gremlins, who I image look like this: