The Emperor of All Things by Paul Witcover – Book Review [Bane of Kings]

The Emperor of All Things

Bane of Kings reviews The Emperor of All Things by Paul Witcover, a fun Steampunk novel published by Transworld Books in the UK.

“The Emperor of All Things is one of the most fun reads I’ve had so far in 2013. Very brilliant.” ~The Founding Fields

It’s not often I get to read a Steampunk novel but when I do I usually find them very enjoyable. His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman remains my favourite YA work of fiction to date, and both Cyber Circus by Kim Lakin-Smith and The Great Game by Lavie Tidhar have been strong reads. I was very intrigued by the following blurb of The Emperor of All Things, even if it is quite possibly one of the longest that I’ve come across in a while:

Tempus Rerum Imperator: Time, Emperor of All Things. 

The year is 1758. England is at war, embroiled in a globe-spanning conflict that stretches from her North American colonies to Europe and beyond. And now, after more than two years of military and diplomatic setbacks, the country itself is at risk. Across the Channel, the French prepare for an invasion – an invasion rumored to be led by none other than Bonnie Prince Charlie. It seems the map of Europe is about to be redrawn …again. Yet beneath the surface, behind the scenes, another war is raging. A war that will determine not just the fate of nations but of humanity itself. 

Daniel Quare is a journeyman in the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, an ancient guild whose royal charter confers absolute authority over the manufacture of timepieces. But Quare is more than he seems. He is a Regulator, a member of an elite spy network within the guild – a network devoted to searching out and claiming for England’s exclusive use any horological innovation that could conceivably result in an advantage for Britain over her adversaries, whether in business or in war. It is just such a mission that brings him one moonlit night to the London townhouse of the eccentric collector Lord Wichcote. But there he finds more than he bargained for. A pocket watch possessed of seemingly impossible properties – deadly properties that seem to have more to do with magic than with any science familiar to Quare or to his superiors in the guild, Sir Thaddeus Wolfe, Grandmaster of the Order, and Theophilus Magnus, head of the Most Secret and Exalted Order of Regulators. But the strange watch has drawn the attention of others as well. The mysterious masked thief known only as Grimalkin, and a French spy – and cold-blooded killer – who seeks to bring the prize back to his masters. 

Soon Quare finds himself following a trail of intrigue and murder that leads far from the world he knows into an otherwhere of dragons and demigods, in which nothing is as it seems …time least of all.

The Emperor of All Things takes place in 1785, a very different period to what you’ll have come across if you’ve studied that area of history, for it is a time filled with all sorts of fantasy elements, magic, dragons, stuff that is unexplained and makers of clocks that are more then they appear. The book itself is divided into three, with the opening act taking place in London focusing on Quare and a lot of fighting with swords, whilst the second part of the tale takes us through an older story dealing with a colossal clock tower, a town stranded from the rest of the world and an obsession, whilst the third and final act will take the readers back to London to end a book that I’ve already stated as one of the most fun reads of 2013 so far.

The Emperor of All ThingsThe first part of the novel, for me – is the more interesting one, as the description above suggests – this tale drags the reader on an exciting journey through London in 1785, and deals with spies, secret societies and as mentioned above, lots of sword fighting. The pace as a result moves along at a lightning-fast pace which doesn’t relent throughout the entire book, allowing for a page-turning read. However, in some parts – The Emperor of All Things gets ahead of itself and in order to understand what’s going on, you have to flick back a few pages and re-read them.

The second act of the novel for me is probably the weakest, in that it just didn’t work for me as well as the first and the last acts did. The fast paced actions that were common throughout them were cast aside in favour of a more entertaining element of the novel, and whilst this book may be bursting with imaginative content, it sometimes comes across as a bit too bizarre for my tastes at least in this part of the book. I get the fact that this is meant to be Steampunk, and bizarre ideas are commonplace (see The Great Game), but… there is a line.

Thankfully though, I was allowed to return to Quare’s adventures before the end of the book and was swept a long at an awesome ride. So it’s safe to say that for the most part, the book is a strong read, filled with action, swashbuckling fun in an alternate London. Witcover has managed to create an entertaining tale that you should find as enjoyable to read as I did. I would even go so far as to call this the most fun read that I’ve had in 2013, but I’m currently reading The Age Atomic by Adam Christopher which I’m enjoying a bit more. However, make no mistake – if you want a fun, steampunk world with some bizarre elements to it as well as for the most part, a strong book, then The Emperor of All Things is unmissable for you.


Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and a prolific reviewer who can be found on many places on the internet usually under the same username – when he’s not trying to catch up on the many seasons of Supernatural and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.


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