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Love, adventure and a steaming good time.
As the French army leader’s bastard son, Cornelius Stevens enjoys a great deal of latitude. But when he saves an enemy soldier using clockwork parts, he’s well aware he risks hanging for treason. That doesn’t worry him half as much, however, as the realization he’s falling for his patient.
Johann Berger never expected to survive his regiment’s suicide attack on Calais, much less wake up with mechanical parts. To avoid discovery, he’s forced to hide in plain sight as Cornelius’s lover—a role Johann finds himself taking to surprisingly well.
When a threat is made on Cornelius’s life, Johann learns the secret of the device implanted in his chest—a mythical weapon both warring countries would kill to obtain. Caught up in a political frenzy, in league with pirates, dodging rogue spies, mobsters and princesses with deadly parasols, Cornelius and Johann have no time to contemplate how they ended up in this mess. All they know is, the only way out is together—or not at all.
Warning: Contains tinkers, excessive clockwork appendages, and a cloud-sweeping tour of Europe. A little absinthe, a little theft, a little exhibitionism. Men who love men, women who love women, and some who aren’t particular.
Though Cornelius Stevens had thumbed his nose at his father’s international conflicts since he was old enough to understand what the word war meant, the night he rescued the Austrian soldier from a pile of dead bodies was the first time his disobedience had gone as far as treason.
He’d gone out, as it happened, to spite his father, who had ordered Conny to attend the local magistrate’s dinner party. “A good friend of mine will be there and is looking forward to meeting you,” his letter had said, and then it had gone on to promise Cornelius a hefty raise of his allowance and the set of Italian tools he’d been coveting in exchange for his presence at the event. Normally that would have been enough to lure Conny into even the most dull official gathering, but the letter had arrived with the evening paper, whose headline celebrated the archduke’s victorious conquest of Switzerland in the name of France. Cornelius had been put off his breakfast at the thought of how many innocent people had died so his father could supply the worthless, lazy emperor in Paris with cheap aether, and he’d burned the letter from his father in his brazier, vowing he’d join the Austrian Army himself before he’d attend a dinner party where he’d hear nothing but the glories of the French forces.
Cornelius was not his father. He saved lives instead of taking them. He was a tinker-surgeon, apprenticed to the best tinker in France. He was a master of clockwork. He saw at least three veterans of his father’s horrible war each week, and he gave them surgeries for free and clockwork for cost, or for whatever the soldiers could afford. He was his father’s son, but he was a bastard son, in blood and in spirit. He would never celebrate the Empire’s appetite for war. He donned his white armband for peace with pride. He wouldn’t attend a dinner party where he knew they’d be celebrating more death.
So that evening Conny dined with friends and drank wine, enough to make him glib about the sirens’ warning of an invasion on his walk home, chalking it up to more hokum from his father. Until half a kilometer from his flat he heard the shelling.
Calais, the city that never saw much more than a dust-up between sailors on leave, was being invaded. Uncertain how to respond, Cornelius moved into alleys and side streets to complete his journey. He climbed barrels and stumbled over cats, sobering with every step as he made his way home through fog tinged with the tang of gunpowder. He wove his way into an industrial area, following the path of a service canal—and that was where he found the raft of dead Austrian soldiers.
At first he thought he was hallucinating. It happened more often than he cared to admit, if he worked too long without stopping to eat. But he’d eaten both lunch anddinner, and it had only been one bottle of wine, no absinthe. Also, he’d never hallucinated smells before. Gunpowder. Sea muck. Sweat. Blood.
As a tinker-surgeon, Cornelius knew the scent of life recently ended all too well. The small barge heaved with a stack of dead soldiers, almost six feet high. Each wore the same green-gray uniform with the Austrian insignia, now caked with blood and mud. Some stared sightlessly at the sky, some twisted to their side, gazing at a distant eternity. No one living rode along to shepherd the dead. They simply drifted along with the rest of the night garbage waiting to be disposed of downstream at the city incinerator. No need to guard dead enemies. No need to afford them courtesy.
It was the most horrific, inhuman spectacle Cornelius had ever seen.
This is the work of my father. This is the fruit of Archduke Francis Cornielle Guillory’s terrible, endless war.
Cornelius swallowed the lump in his throat. He’d spent the day erasing the poor Swiss invasion victims from his imagination only to stumble upon barges full of fuel enough for a lifetime of nightmares. Hundreds of men, dead at his father’s hand. It didn’t matter how many lives Cornelius saved in surgery, how many wounded soldiers he gave new life to with surgical clockwork. He realized, standing on the bank of the canal, his entire life was but a pebble in his father’s ocean of blood.
Shutting his eyes, Cornelius put a hand to his mouth and fought the urge to retch. A watery cough made him open his eyes again, and he saw a hand raise and lower feebly on the top of one of the piles of corpses.
One of the soldiers was still alive.
With a cry, Cornelius sprinted across the street, hopped over the rail and vaulted onto the barge.
He climbed the dead men, the soft squish of their faces and necks and creak-cracks of their bones making him shiver as he scaled the heap. Another cough from above spurred him on, and then, at last, when he grasped an arm for purchase, it tensed and flinched under his grip.
“It’s all right. I’m here.” So much blood. The soldier’s legs were broken at odd angles, and the right one had a seeping stain that told Conny it was bleeding out. Shrapnel protruded from the man’s belly and chest, and one great piece of metal appeared to have gone through his left arm entirely. His left eye was a scarred, mangled mess—it wasn’t missing, but it had been highly damaged. If he could see at all out of that side, it wasn’t much. Though that wound wasn’t fresh. However he’d partially lost his sight, it wasn’t from this battle.
The soldier murmured something in slurred German and tried, weakly, to push Cornelius away.
Cornelius stilled him with one hand as the other continued his examination. “You’re badly injured. But everything here is treatable, I think. Certainly I could give you a new eye without any trouble. Your left arm must go, and I can’t promise good things for your right leg, but…well, you floated by the right one for the job.”
The man gasped in pain and tried again to shove Conny. This effort was even weaker, though, and when Cornelius’s hand brushed his, the soldier’s fingers tightened around his own.
Cornelius threaded their fingers together. “I’m so sorry this has happened to you. This is wrong. This war is wrong, this barge is wrong—you shouldn’t be here if you’re alive. You should be at a prisoner-of-war camp, and you should be accorded respect.” He swallowed a bubble of bitterness. “You should be at home. If you came to Calais, it should be for a holiday.”
The man opened his good eye and gazed at Cornelius through a haze of pain. Though he spoke in German, no translation was necessary for the look on the soldier’s face.
I’m going to die, and I’m afraid.
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The fun of writing an alternate history steampunk set in Europe was being able to explore languages and cultures we don’t usually hear about in historicals. Not only is Clockwork Heart not set in Great Britain, its two main characters’ native tongues are not English. The problem with writing a novel whose main characters don’t speak English is that I only speak English.
I learned very quickly that even though I wrote the story in English and simply said people were speaking French or German, I still had to have a sturdy understanding of the language and the cultures I wrote about. The cultures and the idioms weren’t the trouble—it was the language itself. I did what I could in Google translate and in quick guides online, but at the end of the day, help from friends, family, and colleagues became essential.
My sister Holli helped me with my initial forays into German, as she lives and works in Vienna, but it was Juliane Taubner who did an intense beta read and made sure my German was truly up to snuff. Vanessa North helped me make sure the partial for submission was French-functional, and Nathalie Grey helped me turn Conny and Val into true Frenchmen in the final pass. Martina Nealli helped name the tinker district in Naples and made sure the limited Italian in the text was right on point.
It got especially crazy during the drafting when I wrote in English about a Frenchman teaching a German soldier how to speak French. But this turned out to be nothing when I wrote in Enligsh about a Frenchman and German soldier egging each other on to talk dirty in their native tongue during sex. I made it through, however, because though I was the sad little American who speaks one tongue, I live in a rich global village, where I can email someone at three in the morning and say, “So how do you say ‘I want to lick your wicked hole’ in French?”
Thank you to my village of language helpers. I hope you find they allowed Clockwork Heart to be that much more rich, that the multilingual aspect of the novel is just one more way it truly is a steaming good time.
About the author:
Heidi Cullinan has always enjoyed a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. Proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality, Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. She writes positive-outcome romances for LGBT characters struggling against insurmountable odds because she believes there’s no such thing as too much happy ever after. When Heidi isn't writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, playing with her cats, and watching television with her family. Find out more about Heidi at heidicullinan.com.
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