A Clockwork Ballet – Mechanized Masterpieces

This is a critique of the fifth story in the steampunk anthology ‘Mechanized Masterpieces’ edited by Penny Freeman. The purpose is not to show all the mistakes and short comings, or say that I am a better writer, because clearly I’m not. This is simply an exercise in critical reading with the goal of improving my own writing, and encouraging great writing from any reader that passes by.

There will be lots of SPOILERS here.  You have been warned.

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‘A Clockwork Ballet’ by M.K. Wiseman was styled after ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ by Gaston Leroux.  This tale picks up after the close of the original story of the Phantom and brings in an interesting steampunk twist while filling in the back story of the Phantom himself.  It’s been a long time since I’ve read ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ but the songs of the Broadway opera still ring in my head, thanks to my college roommate’s repetitive indulgence in the soundtrack.

Wiseman, has a strength in writing dialogue which flowed seamlessly between characters.  The characters themselves were also quite well developed.  Writing such a well known character as the Opera Ghost, Eric, is no small challenge.  But I found Wiseman’s rendition to be a flawless fit with my preconceived expectations.  So much so, that I almost didn’t realize how easily I accepted Wiseman’s renderings until I sat down to write my critique.

I also really enjoyed the creative twist at the end of the tale that not only brought Wiseman’s story together, but provided believable back story to Leroux’s work as well.  The writing , overall, felt very much in the style of the original, at least from what I can remember, and in that sense could almost have been written by  Leroux himself.

I was, however, put off a little by at the beginning.  With just a couple of pen strokes the first few paragraphs reversed Leroux’s finale and brought the storyline back to the all too well known  plot of the subversive Opera Ghost against the conniving stage managers.  Despite being well written, I think Wiseman could have been a little more clever about setting up the conflict of the story while still paying homage to Leroux.

That said, Wiseman’s creativity and originally does finally come out in the exciting plot twists at the end of the story.  Looking back, the climax was well set up through the introduction and conflict of the tale.  I really enjoyed seeing the multiple facets of Eric’s personality brought out.  After racing through the last several paragraphs I set the book down with a different and better impression than I had in the beginning and middle.

I’m a little torn in what I would like to see different in ‘A Clockwork Ballet’.  On one hand, Wiseman did a very great job in emulating Leroux’s characters and style.  But on the other I feel that I missed out on Wiseman’s own style and creativity through the first half of the book.   I think what I can say is that I would have liked to see a better compromise between emulating Leroux and introducing more original style and motivation in the beginning and middle of the story.  Specifically, opening with the reversal of the ‘The Phantom’ without much explanation and the reiteration of the conflict between the Opera Ghost and the managers could have used a greater infusion of Wiseman’s own creativity.  But I’m a little hesitant still, because Wiseman did such a good job in his treatment of the characters and setting set up by Leroux.

The only other thing I could say is that the idea of clockwork dancers was neat and that I would have liked to see them do more!  But that’s just me.

It was a good read produced by Wiseman, much better than I could have done.


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