In many stories, magic is presented as being part of the natural world, and thus able to interact with it. And while that’s still true in Michelle D. Sonnier’s The Clockwork Chronicles series, what she adds to the mythos are people whose magic works instead on technology. In the following email interview, Sonnier talks about The Clockwork Solution (paperback, Kindle), the second book in this steampunk / gaslamp fantasy series.
For those who haven’t read any of these books, what is The Clockwork Chronicles series about, what is The Clockwork Witch about, and when and where are both set?
The Clockwork Chronicles follows a young woman named Arabella through her discovery of her own unusual magical powers on to learning to use those powers and making her way through a dangerous world. She is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, possibly the fulfillment of an old prophecy. Although some see her as an abomination of the natural order and wish her dead. Her world is fraught with both political and physical danger.
The Clockwork Witch begins in an alternate Victorian England, the spring of 1851 to be exact. In this world, witches saved humanity from the worst ravages of the Black Plague, and they hold high esteem in polite society. More powerful witches also hold great wealth and political power. But some in society are beginning to tire of their hold on the world. The influence of the magical community over the levers of government is fading. In particular, the gentlemen who lead the burgeoning industrial revolution would like to see the see witches cast down from their powerful perches. Into this precarious balance enters Arabella. Thought by her family to be a burden because of her lack of magical ability in the natural world, instead she proves to be a new breed of witch, one who exerts magical power over technology. Just by existing, she upsets the balance of the whole world. Some people want to use her, some people want to kill her, and some very few want to help her without ulterior motives. Now she just has to figure who is who…
And then for people who have read The Clockwork Witch, and thus don’t need to heed my SPOILER WARNING, what is The Clockwork Solution about?
The Clockwork Solution is a direct narrative continuation of The Clockwork Witch. The events of The Clockwork Solution begin two days after The Clockwork Witch ended. Arabella is sent to Ireland to deal with the ongoing problem of the famine, in part to get her away from those in England who wish her harm because of her unique talent. Only witches are not looked upon favorably in Ireland, in part because of the famine and their inability so far to end it. The second book draws on a lot of family history, and foreshadows what is to come in the series.
When in the process of writing The Clockwork Witch did you come up with the idea for The Clockwork Solution?
I knew it immediately. I knew the story I wanted to tell would take more than one book. I didn’t know how long it would be when I started writing The Clockwork Witch, but by the end of the first book I knew I had a seven-book arc on my hands.
The Clockwork Witch was a steampunk historical fantasy novel. Is The Clockwork Solution one as well?
Since it is a direct narrative continuation, yes, I would consider The Clockwork Solution the same genre as The Clockwork Witch. I’ve heard some people classify The Clockwork Chronicles as gaslamp fantasy, and others slot it in with straight steampunk. The books do tend to play with the boundaries of these related genres. They do have some history. I’ve nudged a few events on the calendar to smooth out the narrative, but for the most part the large cultural events do fit the world as we know it. But there is more magic than you usually see in steampunk and more technology than you usually see in gaslamp fantasy. The story tells me what it needs, and I just follow along.
Are there any writers who had a big influence on The Clockwork Solution but not on The Clockwork Witch?
My influential writer pantheon tends to stay pretty stable. There really isn’t someone who influenced one of the books and not the other. Charles de Lint always remains the writer I take my measure against, no matter what I’m working on. The man is brilliant. His creativity is through the roof, and his prose is lyrical and deft. I’ve also recently fallen in love with N.K. Jemison, Nnedi Okorafor, and S.A. Chakraborty. Their books are master classes on all kinds of narrative aspects.
How about non-literary influences; was The Clockwork Solution influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
While I truly enjoy all kinds of visual storytelling mediums, nothing I’ve indulged in so far has influenced this particular world in my head.
And then to flip things around, if I may, do you think The Clockwork Witch and The Clockwork Solution could work as a series of movies, a show, or a game?
The Clockwork Chronicles could work as a serial TV show. I think that would be the most suitable format if it transitioned into visual storytelling. I think it would give the characters the best opportunity to grow over time and show their complexity.
If someone wanted to make that happen, who would you want them to cast as Arabella and the other main characters?
I’d love to see the show filmed with the main characters being talented, but relatively unknown actors. It might sound selfish, but I’d really like to see my characters have their moment to shine without the viewers thinking about an actor’s past roles.
That said, I think Freya Allan, who plays Ciri in Netflix’s The Witcher, would be an amazing Arabella.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Clockwork Witch and The Clockwork Solution, what steampunk historical fantasy novel or series of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
I quite enjoyed the Ministry Of Peculiar Occurrences series by Tee Morris and Philippa Ballantine. The first book in the series is Phoenix Rising. It’s just such a fun romp of a series. It’s a lovely complex world you can really sink into, and they keep the story moving with a lot of action, humor, and heart.