So towards the end of last year I made a post about Lincoln Christmas Market and mentioned I picked up a new book that sounded quite good called The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. Well I’m here to revise this statement: It was freaking awesome and I loved it and you should go and read it now. Now if that didn’t convince you, let me explain.
Plot-wise, the story comes in three strands. At first, and for the majority of the story, we follow Thaniel Steepleton, a telegraphist in 1880s London, who is stuck in a rut and simply going through the motions of his own life. Thaniel’s life changes forever when two seemingly unconnected events occur: one) a bomb scare is reported on government buildings, including his own, and two) he comes home to find a pocket-watch left on his pillow by an unknown person. When the watch saves his life, he goes in search of the watchmaker, and hopefully some answers. The second strand is from Grace Carrow, desperate to establish herself as a scientist versus her family’s wishes for her to marry, who is desperately trying to prove the existence of luminiferous. Finally, the story also jumps back to 1860s Japan where we discover more about the past of the mystery watchmaker, Keita Mori.
I’ve been trying to work out what it reminded me of and I think it can be best summed up as the feel of a Sherlock Holmes mystery. There are moments of tension and suspense, of doubts and trickery, but also a warm, charming feeling, especially through the jokes in Thaniel’s narration. I wish I could talk more about the plot as there’s so much more than meets the eye, but it is best discovered on its own terms I think, unravelling itself as all three narratives mere together. However I do have to say, that ending though- That Ending!
I especially loved how the characters were created because none were set up as unambiguously ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Thaniel is, for want of a better word, adorable in my mind but he also is such an insular person you can feel his struggle to connect to anyone and the way he allows his life to be moved because “it’s the right thing to do” is presented as both a virtue and a curse. Grace wasn’t reduced to simply the usual “You don’t understand me” model of girl vs family which practically had me shouting “YES” but also she wasn’t presented as a radical creative either. She’s scientific and driven, but can also be a bit selfish at times and to have a female lead who I didn’t feel I needed to “get” simply because she was female was quite different but also quite nice. Then we have Keita who you could change your opinion on every time he appears as there are so many layers to his character. There was also a lovely host of supporting characters, my favourite being either Six or Katsu the octopus. (Yes you did read that correctly).
This is the first steampunk-style novel I’ve read so it did lose me a few times when the mechanics were being explained, as did some of Grace’s explanations, and although this didn’t seem to affect my reading of the story, I feel like I should go back and truly try and understand what they’re talking about. However, a lovely little element was Thaniel’s synesthesia which manifests as seeing sounds in colours and the image of the yellow staircase in the Clerk’s building really immerses you in Thaniel’s world. Also the cover is gorgeous so it is a proud addition to my bookshelf.
Basically I would recommend this to anyone, but especially if you have any interest in getting into steampunk/ historical novels but aren’t sure if it is going to be for you as I think it has been a great introduction. Now the only problem for me is the fact that this is a debut novel and so I am going to have to wait until the summer for the next Natasha Pulley novel! Also if anyone has any steampunk recommendations, let me know in the comments section.