Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
For fans of: Lucy Ribchester, Haruki Murakami
He hadn’t been aware of breathing shallowly. It had happened gradually; someone had put a penny on his chest every hour since November, and now the weight of thousands of pennies had lifted at once.
Has anyone noticed that there’s recently been an influx of these quirky Victorian crime-type novels? And they all seem to be author debuts too! Only earlier this year I discovered Lucy Ribchester’s Suffragette thriller The Hourglass Factory and now Bloomsbury have sent me this beautiful first novel from Natasha Pulley – The Watchmaker of Filigree Street.
It was exactly the same now as it had been four years ago when he had first taken the tenancy. Everything since then had been nothing but laps.
Set in Victorian London, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is told primarily through the eyes of telegraphist Thaniel Steepleton. Resigned to his 6 day working weeks and sidelined pipe-dreams, Thaniel’s life doesn’t expand much beyond the Home Office and his tiny London flat. That is, until parts of London begin falling victim to clockwork bombings and he returns home to find a mysterious pocketwatch on his bed.
He soon tracks down the watchmaker – Japanese shopowner Keita Mori – but Mori’s style of watchmaking suspiciously resembles the type of clockwork found in the bombs – and that’s not all. Things get more disconcerting as it quickly becomes apparent that he has an uncanny ability to predict what Thaniel’s been up to even when they’re apart. While Thaniel is trying to crack Mori’s (many) mysteries, young female physicist Grace Carrow is attempting to unlock the secrets of the “ether”, but little does she know that her research will reach new heights with the introduction of Thaniel and Mori into her life.
Although his clothes were English, they looked worn, and with his bad posture and his black eyes, they made him less like a breathing human than an expensive, neglected marionette.
Pulley’s incredible imagination and her beautiful writing style are the winning combination that make The Watchmaker of Filigree Street so compelling. Seamlessly melding elements of Asian and Western culture, the novel is full of blurred lines which even manifest themselves in the leading characters, each of whom struggles with the difference between who they are and who society thinks they should be. There are also dozens of subtle instances of foreshadowing – if you read the novel again you’ll kick yourself for missing them! I think this is fully intended as a nod towards Mori’s own predictive talents.
Because of the steam from the pan, it was dull from condensation, but it still hummed its voice colour.
Thaniel is particularly endearing – we learn early on that had to give up his dreams of becoming a pianist in order to financially support his widowed sister and her sons. It’s also made clear that he can visualise sounds (part of what makes him such a talented pianist) and as a whole Watchmaker is a very “visual” novel. Everything is described so vividly that you never have an issue recreating the scene in your mind.
There are plenty of unexpected twists and turns throughout The Watchmaker of Filigree Street but Pulley introduces them so delicately you almost think yourself stupid for not realising their repercussions sooner. One of the biggest surprises the novel presents is the relationship between Thaniel and Mori, which progresses from suspicion and deception to an unfathomable but deep understanding. Meanwhile Grace is forced to assume the role of bad guy as she tries to open Thaniel’s eyes to the danger of Mori’s prophetic tendencies.
If you like the idea of a Victorian fantasy novel (with a pinch of Japanese culture thrown in), you need to get your hands on a copy of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. Boasting beautiful, imaginative writing informed by Pulley’s own experiences living in Japan, Watchmaker is a brilliant debut and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next. And there’s a clockwork octopus in there that I’m pretty fond of too…
Disclaimer: This book was sent to me to review by Bloomsbury Circus. All opinions expressed here are my own.