Published by Bloomsbury Circus on May 27, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Magical-Realism, Steampunk
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London, 1884. When Thaniel Steepleton comes home to find a new watch on his pillow, he has bigger things to worry about than generous burglars; he is a telegraphist at the Home Office, where he has just received a Fenian bomb threat. But six months later, the watch saves his life in a blast that destroys Scotland Yard, and at last, he goes in search of its maker.
He meets Keita Mori, a Japanese immigrant who remembers the future. As Mori begins to tweak daily life in Thaniel’s favour, everything seems to be going well – until physicist Grace Carrow, attracted to Thaniel’s refreshingly direct, unstuffy nature, unwittingly interferes. Soon, events spiral beyond Thaniel’s control, and nothing is certain any more…
Natasha Pulley breathes authenticity into the era of Sherlock Holmes, shines subtle light upon the prevailing views on gender and plays speculatively with time and destiny to take the reader on an unexpected journey through Victorian London and beyond. (And watch out for the clockwork octopus…)
It is 1884. The Irish Republican movement Clan Na Gael has set off a clockwork bomb at the Home Office in London, but telegraph clerk Thaniel Steepleton has miraculously survived thanks to a strange pocket watch, left at his apartment a few weeks previously. The watch was made by “K. Mori”, a Japanese immigrant with a clockwork workshop at Knightsbridge, and it’s now Thaniel’s job to find out if Mori could be responsible for the bomb.
This is not really a traditional steampunk story – it’s not really an alternative history, more of a “gearpunk” clockwork with a touch of magic. If you’re looking for a fast-paced story, this is not for you. The gentle pacing put me off a little towards the start but it does give a mysterious, almost sinister feeling to the story as it unfolds. The setting in London – the upmarket Knightsbridge area, the Japanese show village and the smokey Underground really bring the era to life. At the same time, the elements of Japanese culture and the clashes with the English way of life (and bizarrely, Gilbert and Sullivan) make this an interesting look at the life of Asian immigrants to London at the time.
Mori and his clockwork is just delightful. Philippa suggested to me that she thought this book sounded like The Night Circus, and it often does have that dreamlike quality. There are clockwork fireflies in the garden, golden pears that grow up trees, and Katsu the Octopus is my absolute favourite and I want one. Even the way Mori interacts with those around him is very sweet and rather eccentric, and I loved that – when I wasn’t wondering whether he was actually a criminal mastermind.
The storyline itself does have quite a lot of complex science and timey-whimey possibilities with the clairvoyant “remembering forward” aspect of this story. At times it almost felt like there was too much complexity woven in. I did enjoy hearing about Grace and her work with the Ether, despite the complex explainations. Theoretical physics can’t have been an easy field to work in back then, especially as a young woman.
By the end I was still left with a slightly baffled feeling, although the actual ending itself is very satisfying. The Watchmaker is an amazing stand-alone debut and I’ll be looking forward to whatever Natasha Pulley creates next.