My Favorite Bit: Dru Pagliassotti talks about CLOCKWORK SECRETS: HEAVY FIRE

My Favorite Bit iconDru Pagliassotti is joining us today with her novel Clockwork Secrets: Heavy Fire. Here’s the publisher’s description.

The final book in the Clockwork Heart trilogy.

Framed for regicide and trapped on a ship crippled by enemy fire, Taya and Ondinium’s diplomatic contingent seem helpless to prevent the well-engineered war their enemies have put into motion. While Alzanan and Demican armies march across Ondinium’s borders, Taya and her husband fight airborne battles from the tropical islands of the Cabisi Thassalocracy to the war-ravaged mountains of Alzana. When Taya falls into her enemy’s hands, she fears that nobody will be able to save Ondinium from the devastating weapon about to be plunged into its mechanically ticking heart.

Books in the Trilogy:

Clockwork Heart
Clockwork Lies: Iron Wind
Clockwork Secrets: Heavy Fire

What’s Dru’s favorite bit?

Clockwork Secrets Cover


My contract for Clockwork Secrets: Heavy Fire limited me to 100,000-110,000 words, which I found very constraining. Since I had to cut some of the things I found most delightful, I’m glad to have this opportunity to write a little more about the Cabisi Thassalocracy, which main character Taya talks about in Clockwork Heart and finally visits in the new book, Clockwork Secrets. So here it is: more detail describing the new culture of the Cabisi Thassalocracy. These details are My Favorite Bit.

One thing readers may find interesting is that Cabisi speak in the present tense, which led to some rather oddly phrased sentences in the novel and many grammar-geeky internal debates (“would it be acceptable to use past-tense verbs to form present-tense conditional statements?”). I did my best to keep the Cabisi grammar consistent; please don’t tell me where I slipped up!

Which comes first, language or culture? I wanted to depict the Cabisi culture as accommodating and appreciating what it is and has now … as opposed to Ondinium (where Taya is from), which clings to its imperial past while constantly striving for a “better” (more controlled) future.

To that end, Cabiel is a sociocratie, with no heritable rank or caste. Communities nominate justiciars from their own membership to interpret the Code. What this means is that the Cabisi make decisions by consent, informed by an ancient code of law that includes rules for judicial dueling. On the other hand, Ondinium rules from the top down, and it values a level of efficiency, conformity, and uniformity impossible to attain under the Cabisi system. It’s a good thing Cabisi don’t travel to Ondinum very often; they’d find it oppressively restrictive.

Another image that I wanted to share with readers was that of the outer gallery of the Impeccable Justiciary’s meeting hall, which was inspired by Sanj?sangen-d? in Kyoto. It is a long hall containing a thousand statues of Kannon covered in gold leaf. The Cabisi deity portrayed by the statues, The Dancer, was inspired by the androgynous form of Ardhanarishvara, half Shiva and half Parvati, except that instead of being split neatly down the middle, the Dancer is depicted as either hermaphroditic or asexual. Like Shiva in his Nataraja aspect, the Dancer both creates and destroys. The Cabisi, living on tropical islands, accept the balance of the ebb and flow of life, whereas the Ondiniums and their deity, the Lady of the Forge, living in a chilly mountain range, constantly strive to construct better and stronger defenses against loss and danger.

The Cabisi consider aesthetics an important cultural value and, appreciating the bright flowers and birds around them, are especially fond of using color in their architecture and clothing. Taya’s husband, Cristof, argues that Cabisi artisanry isn’t cost-effective, but the Cabisi would never buy an unadorned rifle or bare-bones analytical engine. Taya’s own Ondinium is gray and bare by comparison

The kattaka’s whip sword is based on the urumi; if you want to see some thrilling martial arts, look up “urumi” or “kalarippayattu” on YouTube. I really, really, really wanted to write a scene in which Jinian uses the sword in combat, but for various reasons it never worked out; her nearly single-handed attack on the Indomitable occurred off-screen, although I promise it was epic.

Speaking of weapons, the Cabisi may live in a beautiful tropical setting, but an island nation faces many threats. The Cabisi believe that their culture of dueling keeps them independent; both as individuals and as a nation. Ondinium takes the opposite view, strictly controlling weapons to keep the peace.


The Cabisi Thalassocracy was intended to be an alternative to smoky, overbuilt Ondinium, that gritty urban setting so common in steampunk. My goal was to link its geography and climate with its people’s language and culture in a believable manner and show that although it faces many of the same problems as Ondinium, its very different situation has led it to solve those problems in very different ways. I’m glad I was given this chance to point that out more clearly here, and I hope you enjoy visiting Cabiel in Clockwork Secrets!






As a child I discovered that I was happier alone than with others. Words were my best friends, and the secluded laboratory-fortress in which I exercised my crazed imagination was constructed of typewriter keys, paper, and ink. Within its protective walls I created and destroyed individuals, civilizations, and entire worlds for my personal pleasure — a practice I’ve learned to share with others as a tabletop game master and a published writer. But on the whole, I’m afraid that I’m still more comfortable alone with the written word … and maybe a reptile or two.

I can be found on all those online places you’d expect (Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads) and can be emailed at my name at gmail dot com.

Did you know you can support Mary Robinette on Patreon?
Become a patron at Patreon!

1 thought on “My Favorite Bit: Dru Pagliassotti talks about CLOCKWORK SECRETS: HEAVY FIRE”

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top