The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – Natasha Pulley

Oh, Beautiful Book covers, so few and far between,

As fleeting in the market as the decisions of an confused teen!

After many days there is once again a beautiful book cover to gush about. After all, the title of the book has ‘watchmaker’ and ‘filigree’ in it. It would be pretty hard to get that wrong. ย The watch peeps out of a cutout in the front cover which is always an adorable trick. There is also a cute little green octopus on the cover which managed to puzzle me completely as I tried to reconcile a watchmaker living in a a filigree street with an octopus. Was the watchmaker perhaps a seafood enthusiast? Was it an underwater mystery? Of course, I was nowhere near the mark. I have never been more delighted to be wrong.

The story follows a young British Home Office telegraphist, Thaniel Steepelton, working in Britain in 1883. He is quiet, conscientious, diligent and dutiful. He lives in a tiny rented room and is just getting by as he sends the bulk of his savings to his sister and her children. Since he is not pushy but reticent, he is often not accorded proper respect at work at which he is pretty good.

One day he returns from work to find a beautiful gold clock lying on his pillow. He is mystified. Who would give him such an expensive present? He contemplates selling it, returning it and even giving it up, but then decides against all these actions and taking the path of least resistance simply keeps it. At this very time the Home Office is being inundated with bomb threats and there is a distinct aura of uneasiness at work. A few months later the watch, which was not working to begin with, begins ticking of its own accord, and then saves his life from a bomb blast when it screeches out an alarm in the nick of time.

This has now become serious. It suggests that whoever left the watch knew about the bomb. As he decides to track down the previous owner of the watch, he is led to the watchmaker of Filigree street by the inscription on the watch. The Watchmaker turns out to be a Japanese immigrant called Mori. Curioser and curioser. Prompted by his superiors to keep a close eye on the watchmaker, he moves into the watchmaker’s spare room. What began as an introduction in the line of an inquiry develops into a deep friendship.

Grace Carrow is driven by her thirst for knowledge to dress up as a man in order to access the forbidden libraries and lectures of Oxford. She intersects the lives of Thaniel and Mori at a crucial junction and turns the course of events into extremely murky waters. She is in the way of being a scientist and has an analytical and curious mind.

The search continues for the culprit behind the bomb blasts alongside the growing friendship and regard between these very well paired individuals. Thaniel is instantly lovable because of his simplicity, loyalty and reserve. Mori is much the same but with the added years of wisdom and passion for all things clockwork alongwith his curious abilities. His clockwork inventions are whimsical and utterly wonderful. Thaniel is fascinated by Mori’s craft and his personality.

Natasha Pulley has pulled off a fantasy detective novel with a high degree of sophistication. The characters are etched with a clarity and tenderness that makes them all instantly likable. Even the ones which are supposed to be not so nice have saving graces. There are a few chapters that occur in the past in Japan and it took me a bit to figure out that the Mori in those chapters was the same one in the London ones. For a first novel the writing is intriguing, clean-cut and very very absorbing. This book also falls into the ‘steampunk’ genre which I have hitherto been avoiding at all costs. However, the ‘steampunk’ aspect is so beautifully entwined with the tale that it never felt jarring or out of place. In fact, it was infinitely fascinating.

I might have wished for a bit more of the Japanese side of the tale but it was alright. Also, the last quarter of the book became more and more outrageous. Thaniel emerges as a stronger man by the end of it all, although one wishes he would have decided to be smarter just a tad bit sooner and saved everyone a lot of trouble. But then, where would that the story have gone to provide a suitable climax. For me, I was really happy in the Watchmaker’s magical shop.

 

 

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