Wen Spencer surprised me. I picked up Tinker through the Baen ebook store, expecting to find something that would keep me suitably amused while traveling. The book did that, and then it grabbed me and pulled me in. While I should have been working, I read. While I should have been visiting with family, I read. While I should have been sleeping… you get the idea. It turns out that Spencer is very good at delivering on the promises of her pacing; she starts with a bang, and she quickly turns up the heat and adds increasing tension to the mix. There are a few spots where you can sit down and take a breath, but you won’t want to. Add some sections that make you wince and cringe and more sections that are laugh-out-loud funny, and you’ve got Tinker. It’s a bit like a less pulpy version of Girl Genius. Would you like to know more?
The eponymous Tinker is a wonderfully badass heroine, fun to follow, clearly very smart, and (usually) convincingly young. The book is full of “science,” including the moderately scientific application of magic, and Tinker’s command of technology and its interface with magic is established early on as being nearly unparalleled. As is appropriate for an 18 year old who prefers to surround herself with machines and who has few social connections, she’s also socially and emotionally vulnerable.
Perhaps as a result of that weakness, some bits of the book are very icky. They also feel uncomfortably real. Here’s your trigger warning: toxic interpersonal relationships, possessiveness, sexual assault and rape all appear at some point (though not all of them happen to Tinker). And of course miscommunication, misunderstandings, and mistakes all make appearances as well. As best as I can tell, Spencer plays it all straight. She does win credit in my mind for not simply downplaying the more damaging of these experiences, but, well, they still make me feel uncomfortable. Which is exactly what they’re meant to do, I suppose.
But while those details are certainly realistic enough, their realism is not what makes the book great. The best part of the book is following Tinker on her delightfully improbable adventures. If you’ve read The Foglios’ Girl Genius webcomic, you might have some sense of what you’re in for. Tinker is something like a Spark-level genius, constantly coming up with appropriately awesome solutions that somehow seem to make just the right amount of sense, mostly because you’ve been following around behind her like an excited puppy and watching her desperately throw together her plan. There are few things as much fun as watching Tinker plow through her opposition on a wing, a prayer, and a cobbled together science project.
Occasionally uncomfortable? Yes. Eminently exciting? Also yes. A good, entertaining read? Very yes. If anything about this sounded appealing, you should give it a try. Watch out, this one is fun.