The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
|The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: Hist-fict mixes with steampunk as an Irish terrorist organisation bombs Victorian London and a watchmaker seems to know more than is humanly possible. Urbane, informative, intriguing, quirky fun!|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: July 2015|
|Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus|
London 1883: Thaniel Steepleton, a telegraphist in a government office, finds himself living and working in a city at siege during a Clan na Gael bombing campaign. It's around this time that he also realises that his pocket watch seems to have some odd, previously unnoticed functions. Grace Carrow, a 'bluestocking' physics student also owns such a watch. The two total strangers may think their watches odd, but 'odd' takes on a new meaning when they meet Mr Mori, the Japanese watchmaker. His clockwork pet octopus is only a small measure of the oddity ahead.
This is Natasha Pulley's debut! (The significance of the exclamation mark will be understood on reading the book; it's a fact but an unbelievable one.) Natasha got the idea for the novel while studying at Oxford, an idea that takes us back to a time when the UK was in the midst of a terrorist campaign and foreigners were suspect. The only surprise in that statement is that it was over 100 years ago!
The Clan na Gael actually existed, as did the bombing that sets the tone of xenophobic paranoia. (If you have the time, it's well worth a search-engine.) The authorities in the novel become more and more suspicious of our Japanese gentleman as, coincidentally, the bombs are clockwork. They may or may not be right (one of the mysteries pervading the story) but what they don't realise is that there are greater things to worry about than that when it comes to Mori.
Mori is indeed the central pinnacle of the novel. How does he do what he does (no spoilers)? Is he subtly malevolent and to be feared or a kindly, if weird, old dear? Through alternating view chapters we come to learn more about him and his aristocratic origins in Japan, generating more cleverly posed questions.
The other chapters belong to the equally wonderful Thaniel and Grace. Thaniel (my father was Nat, so…) is a straight down the middle, stiff upper lip, logic-based Victorian civil servant whom we can't help but love. (Or is that just me?) His telegraphy skills single him out for a reluctant central role in the office investigating the Clan na Gael and his wonderfully quirk-ridden friendship with Mori makes him even more valuable. Thaniel isn't at all comfortable with the quirk or being used by the government, or, indeed, how the friendship is going but he's a Brit so he'll tough it out.
The practical scientific Grace is equally as interesting as through her we witness the life of someone deemed educated beyond one's purpose in life. Her father definitely regrets her education as it's delayed marrying her off. The incentive for her is that, if she does marry, she'll get the house that her aunt left her. Yes, it should be Grace's house but it will come to her via her potential husband's dowry while remaining his. (Heaven forbid she owns it herself!) Is this incentive enough though?
Add to the mix the wonderful Fanshaw of the FO and we have a debut that wraps us up in a warm blanket of intrigue, dangling the suggestions of the secrets' solutions before us, while adding even more secrets before we get there.
It may seem a little baffling at the beginning but keep going and all becomes clear and what's past makes sense. Indeed, Natasha writes intelligently while creating people we enjoy observing. The frissoned anticipation of what comes after such promise in a debut is why I became a book reviewer in the first place. So, Natasha, consider my interest well piqued!
(Thank you to the folk at Bloomsbury Circus for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: If you enjoy a bit of Victorian-inspired steampunk, we heartily recommend The Mechanical (Alchemy War) by Ian Tregillis. If it's the Victorian crime mystery side of it that has enticed you thus far then we just as heartily direct you towards The Mangle Street Murders by MRC Kasasian.
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