Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

Title:  The Watchmaker of Filigree Street
Author:  Natasha Pulley
Publication Information:  Bloomsbury Publishing PLC. 2015. 336 pages.
ISBN:  1620408333 / 978-1620408339

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The home office telegraphy department always smelled of tea."

Favorite Quote:  "Your science can save a man's life, but imagination makes it worth living."

Nathaniel "Thaniel" Steepleton works as a telegraph clerk in the Home Office in 1800s London. He lives alone and in dire financial circumstances. One day, he finds a beautiful watch in his apartment. Months later, that watch saves him from a bomb blast - one of many bombings of key London sites. Wondering why he was saved and who left the watch, he seeks out the only clue he has - the name of the maker - K. Mori. The Home Office tasks him to investigate Mori to determine if he is involved in the bombings.

Keito Mori is a Japanese watchmaker, incredibly skilled at his work. He and Thaniel forge a friendship, which alters the course of Thaniel's life - where he lives, what he does, and the other relationships in his life.

For me, this book has an a-ha moment towards the middle when I begin to see what the book is really about. It takes a while because the true main character of the book - the watchmaker Keita Mori - really works in the shadows. The book develops his character through his relationships - with Thaniel, Grace, Ito, and others. We hear very little from the watchmaker himself. This definitely adds to the intrigue surrounding the character and the story. The book sets up to be about the mystery of the bombings and about Thaniel; more truly, it is about the watchmaker and the friendship between these two very different men. Let's just say the watchmaker influences those around him through more than just his watches.

This book has many elements associated with steampunk literature. The urban dictionary defines steampunk as "a subgenre of speculative fiction, usually set in an anachronistic Victorian or quasi-Victorian alternate history setting. It could be described by the slogan 'What the past would look like if the future had happened sooner.'" That slogan is very descriptive of this book.

The historical setting and mix of the book is as interesting as the story itself. The setting is the 1800s- London and Japan. London is growing by leaps and bounds, becoming a destination for immigrants from all over. The immigrants divide over holding on to old traditions and adopting their new homeland. Irish organizations are bombing sites in London to make a political point. Japan is the world of the samurai, emperors, and traditions.

The story, however, has a modern and somewhat futuristic feel. The intricate science of clockworks and its use in what are essentially terrorist attacks plays a key role in the book. Thaniel's job, although using telegraph, is about a complex integrated communication system that can be shattered by one attack. Grace has access to laboratory facilities at the university to pursue new research as a physicist. Katsu, the automaton octopus, becomes a character in the book, described with a complex personality and thoughts even though neither exist.

An intriguing mix of old and new, this book tells a very visual tale. I am left with images of dark, foggy streets and alleyways and characters shrouded in mystery. This is the debut novel by Natasha Pulley; I look forward to reading more.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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