For readers of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, an enchanting, bestselling novel that sweeps readers into a magical Victorian London inhabited by a clockwork octopus and a mysterious watchmaker who is not at all what he first appears.
1883. Thaniel Steepleton returns home to his tiny London apartment to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the mysterious timepiece saves his life, drawing him away from a blast that destroys Scotland Yard. At last, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori, a kind, lonely immigrant from Japan. Although Mori seems harmless, a chain of unexplainable events soon suggests he must be hiding something. When Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist, unwittingly interferes, Thaniel is torn between opposing loyalties.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is a sweeping, atmospheric narrative that takes the reader on an unexpected journey through Victorian London, Japan as its civil war crumbles long-standing traditions, and beyond. Blending historical events with dazzling flights of fancy, it opens doors to a strange and magical past.
Pulley's electrifying debut is a triumph of speculative fiction. It captures the frenetic energy of a world undergoing extraordinary changes: London in the time of new electrical devices, Gilbert and Sullivan's theater, and the terror of Irish nationalist bombings. Nathaniel Steepleton is a telegraph clerk in the Home Office, trapped in a life as regular as clockwork. Grace Carrow is a scientist seeking out the mysteries of ether. Their lives are brought together and into peril by association with Keita Mori, a genius watchmaker who can "remember" the future. When Steepleton receives word of a clockwork bombing and an anonymous gift of a pocket watch on the same day, he begins investigating Mori, who has been accused of building the explosive device but those accusations are rooted in English xenophobia and exploitation of Japanese immigrants. Carrow is determined to prove Mori's guilt, and driven to make a scientific discovery that will free her from the limits society has placed on women. Pulley expertly employs the tools of mystery and fantasy to examine the social pressures faced by the marginalized. The plot revolves around finding the bomber, but the heart of the story is the universal human quest for acceptance, understanding, and love.
This review was first published on Kurt's Frontier.
Thaniel Steepleton is a Morse code operator at the Home Office in London in 1883. He lives a reasonably quiet life trying to support his widowed sister’s family. This is a time of civil unrest in the British Empire. Irish nationalists are agitating for independence, with some factions willing to resort to terrorism. One day, Thaniel returns home to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, a bomb goes off, destroying Scotland Yard. The mysterious watch sounds an alarm that saves his life. He finds the watchmaker is one Keita Mori, a lonely, eccentric immigrant from Japan. The two strike up a friendship, but a chain of unexplainable events suggests something sinister is afoot. Then, Thaniel becomes engaged to a young woman named Grace Carrow, who is studying physics at Oxford. When she suspects Mori is at the center of these events, Thaniel finds his allegiances torn.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is written along the lines of steampunk but focusses more on the clockwork end of things. We see fantastic watches, clockwork birds, even a clockwork octopus that takes things that don’t belong to it. The story blends historical events into a fantastic world. Unfortunately, the author does a bit of time jumping, which disturbs the forward momentum, and the storytelling is a bit disjointed in places. The pace of the story slows towards the end, before the final crisis point where it does pick up. The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is a story with a lot of unrealized potential.