Nell Crane is the girl with the clockwork heart, daughter of two revolutionary thinkers whose contributions have improved the lives of everyone in Black Water City. Great things are expected of her, but she’s running out of time to make a contribution that will keep her free of a life of manual labour. When inspiration finally strikes, her idea is so bold it may destroy her ties to everyone she loves…
Spare and Found Parts is a wild, rich tale of a girl hovering on the edge of adulthood and a society teetering on the brink of extinction. To celebrate its release today, Titan Books have kindly provided me with 2 copies for 2 lucky readers in the UK or Ireland. Want to enter? Follow the blog and leave a comment on this post indicating your interest – easy as pie! Full Ts and Cs below.
100 years after the Turn – when the water ran black and a terrible disease ravaged the country – the scars still run deep. Everyone has lost something: a limb, a family member, their trust in technology. But they refuse to lose hope. Those who aren’t physically whole live in the Pale near the ruins of Black Water City. Each person must present a contribution toward rebuilding society – or go to work on the monumental statue that towers over the city.
The statue is dead Cora Crane’s contribution, a project providing employment for those who have no other skill. Nell lives in her stone sister’s shadow, an aloof young engineer trained by her father Julian, who contributes biomechanical limbs (or in Nell’s case, her heart). Nell loves to tinker with scraps, but her cobbled-together toys won’t improve anyone’s life except her own. She loves bring technology to life – but it’s anathema to her Nan, her best friend Ruby and most of her neighbours.
When inspiration hits, Nell’s audacious vision is to build a robot that smiles. She wants to move beyond rigging up spare parts to batteries and find an actual computer. She hopes to cut through the fear that holds her people back, and give a voice to the abandoned machines, opening a window on the past that will let them reclaim lost knowledge and build a better future.
Spare and Found Parts is gorgeously written, making it a real pleasure to read. Some readers may be less comfortable with the chapters that slip into second person, putting the reader behind Nell’s eyes, but I loved the immediacy and intimacy of them.
I also loved how quickly the characters sprang to life. Introverted Nell is forced to act as her father’s go-between with the world, but not really comfortable in company. She’s fiercely independent, in part perhaps because her father Julian is defined by his absence: the ‘genius’ is always locked in his lab, occasionally passing through Nell’s life with an encouraging word before he disappears back to his mysterious projects.
Her best friend Ruby is Nell’s opposite, popular and self-assured, her contribution already taking shape. Her casual unkindnesses to Nell have the familiar exasperation of lifelong friends (although I can’t say I liked her for them). It’s not hard to see why Nell is horribly lonely.
Worse, everybody considers this self-inflicted: hoity-toity Nell Crane, who thinks she’s better than everyone else, and who should just get on with marrying young Oliver Kelly. There’s few ways to win my sympathy faster. Nell has no interest in Oliver, but everyone in the City takes it for granted that she’ll eventually give in to his advances.
I couldn’t decide whether Nell’s disinterest in Oliver was meant to suggest she was aro or ace (or just, you know, not interested in Oliver). Her longing for a companion feels romantic in places, but she’s fiercely touch-averse (Oliver has the scars to prove it) and she mostly just seems to want a friend (I liked that while she defaulted to assuming this friend would be male, she’d be happy with a girlfriend). SPOILER (mouse over to read) When she kisses Io, it triggers a panic attack – and in the end, their alliance is platonic. I expected this to be a more overtly romantic read, so I found the nuances refreshing.
Nothing here is quite what it seems, and the characters (even much-maligned Oliver Kelly) are satisfyingly complex. Nell’s fierce intelligence and ambition look a lot like uncaring selfishness in some lights. She’s a loner through and through. While I enjoyed her commitment to her vision, she takes what she needs with little consideration for others. Her father is a cipher until the very end, hoarding secrets and clearly engaged on a project as divisive as Nell’s. He’s also a little too willing to ignore her disdain for Oliver Kelly, but Griffin handles the subtext about consent with care.
There’s so many lenses through which I could examine the human side of this story, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much: the metaphor of Nell’s clockwork heart; her self-identification as a time bomb; the similarities between mother and daughter – and ultimately between father and daughter. It makes for a rewarding read, and one where the characters feel fully-realised and painfully human.
The world-building, by contrast, is a bit sketchy: the healthy in the Pastures, the healing in the Pale. While we find out more about the Turn and the toxic water which infected the city, it’s never quite clear whether the Turn was a strictly Irish apocalypse or one that affected the whole world. I think this is a deliberate choice, as there’s a ruthless focus throughout: so we only get to know what Nell knows – just as we experience all other characters through her bias.
That said, there were a few details that could have been clearer, specifically the relationship between Pasture and Pale. Nell’s grandmother – experienced mostly through her chiding, controlling, unanswered letters – gives us the merest glimpse of life in the Pasture. Rich and respected, she offers Nell an escape to a life of luxury, but I was never entirely clear whether she would have been pulling strings or engaging in subterfuge to do so (Nell is not one of the healthy, but so long as she wears a scarf it’s not obvious). Similarly, there’s an early hint that Ruby would be welcome in the Pasture if she got a prosthetic eye.
The apparent emphasis on being physically whole rather than visibly disabled could have left a bad taste in my mouth, except that the residents of Black Water City are so triumphantly independent. They don’t need the Pasture. They are shaping a re-emerging society (and one that increasingly looks to be leaving the Pasture behind) – and their disabilities don’t hold them back. They are proud, defiant and successful in their own right.
It makes for a profoundly hopeful read, even as Nell wrestles with her own demons and gets mired in her family’s well-hidden secrets. While the climax felt both rushed after the long build-up, and the resolution a little simplistic (SPOILER (mouse over to read) …after all the worry about opposition and outright hostility from nearest and dearest, they all just fall into line to support Nell in presenting her contribution), I finished the book with a smile and a warm heart. The ending is slightly ambiguous and has a number of implicit loose ends, so it is nominally open for a sequel, but Spare and Found Parts feels complete as it stands.
I cheerfully recommend it. If nothing else, it’s a delight to read an Irish post-apocalypse – not to mention a post-apocalypse focused on rebuilding, rather than people being utterly awful to one another.
I received a free copy from Titan Books in exchange for an honest review.
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The Giveaway Ts & Cs
- This giveaway is open to residents of the UK and Ireland only
- All entries must be received by midnight PST on Friday, 9th February. The 2 winners will be drawn on Saturday, 10th February
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