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The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

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The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

4/5 (57 évaluations)
398 pages
6 heures
Jul 14, 2015


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.
Jul 14, 2015

À propos de l'auteur

Natasha Pulley studied English Literature at Oxford University. After stints working at Waterstones as a bookseller, then at Cambridge University Press as a publishing assistant in the astronomy and maths departments, she did the Creative Writing MA at UEA. She later studied in Tokyo, where she lived on a scholarship from the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation. She was chosen to be a Writer in Residence at Gladstone's Library and is now associate lecturer at Bath Spa University and panel tutor at the Cambridge University Institute of Continuing Education. Her first novel, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, was an international bestseller, won a Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the Authors' Club Best First Novel Award. The Bedlam Stacks is her second novel. She lives in Bath. @natasha_pulley

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The Watchmaker of Filigree Street - Natasha Pulley

To Claire

Also By Natasha Pulley

The Bedlam Stacks



Part One











Part Two











Part Three













A Note on the Author

Available from Natasha Pulley in August 2017




The Home Office telegraphy department always smelled of tea. The source was one packet of Lipton’s at the back of Nathaniel Steepleton’s desk drawer. Before the widespread use of the electric telegraph, the office had been a broom cupboard. Thaniel had heard more than once that its failure to expand was a sign of the Home Secretary’s continuing mistrust of naval inventions, but even if that wasn’t the case, the departmental budget had never stretched to the replacement of the original carpet, which liked to keep the ghosts of old smells. Besides Thaniel’s modern tea, there was cleaning salt and hessian, and sometimes varnish, though nobody had varnished anything there for years. Now, instead of brooms and brushes, there were twelve telegraphs lined up on a long desk. Three to an operator during the day, each wired to separate places within and without Whitehall, and labelled accordingly in the thin handwriting of a forgotten clerk.

Tonight all twelve machines were silent. Between six and midnight, one operator stayed in the office to catch urgent messages, but after working at Whitehall for three years, Thaniel had never seen anything come through after eight. Once, there had been a strange, meaningless percussion from the Foreign Office, but that had been an accident: somebody had sat on the machine at the other end of the wire. Sat and bounced. He had taken care not to ask about it.

Thaniel shifted stiffly and turned himself to the left of his chair rather than the right, and slid his book along the desk. The wires from the telegraphs were threaded through holes in the desk and then down into the floor, leaving all twelve trailing just where the knees of the operators should have been. The senior clerk liked to complain that sitting sideways made them look like society girls learning to ride, but he complained more if a wire snapped: they were expensive to replace. From the telegraphy room, they ran down through the building and spidered out all over Westminster. One went across the wall to the Foreign Office, one to the telegraph room at the Houses of Parliament. Two joined the clusters of wires strung along the street until they reached the post office headquarters at St Martin’s Le Grand. The others wired direct to the Home Secretary’s own house, Scotland Yard, the India Office, the Admiralty, and other sub-departments. Some of them were pointless because it would have been faster to lean out of the main office window and shout, but the senior clerk said that would have been ungentlemanly.

Thaniel’s watch ticked around to quarter past ten with its crooked minute hand that always stuck a bit over the twelve. Tea time. He saved tea for the nights. It had been dark since late afternoon and now, the office was so cold that his breath was showing and there was condensation on the brass telegraph keys. Having something hot to look forward to was important. He took out the Lipton’s, put the box diagonally in his cup and yesterday’s Illustrated London News under his elbow, and made his way to the iron staircase.

As he went down, it clanged in a bright yellow D sharp. He couldn’t say why D sharp was yellow. Other notes had their own colours. It had been useful when he still played the piano because whenever he went wrong, the sound turned brown. This sound-seeing was something he had always kept to himself. Yellow stairs made him sound mad and, contrary to the opinions of the Illustrated News, it was frowned upon for Her Majesty’s Government to employ the demonstrably insane.

The big stove in the canteen was never cold, the embers of old fires having no time to die completely between the civil service’s late evenings and early mornings. When he stirred over the coals, they came to life with a shimmer. He stood with the small of his back against a table while he waited for the water to boil, watching his own warped reflection in the bronze kettle. It made him look much warmer than his real colours, which were mainly grey.

The newspaper crackled in the deep quiet when he opened it. He had hoped for some kind of interesting military cock-up, but there was only an article about Mr Parnell’s latest speech in Parliament. He tilted his nose down into his scarf. With a bit of effort he could stretch out tea-making into fifteen minutes, which was an appreciable chip out of one of the eight hours he had left, but there wasn’t much to be done about the other seven. It was easier when his book wasn’t boring and when the newspapers had something better to do than look askance at Irish pushings for independence, as though Clan na Gael had not spent the last few years throwing bombs into the windows of government buildings.

He flicked through the rest of the paper. There was an advertisement for The Sorcerer at the Savoy. He had seen it, but the idea of going again made him feel brighter.

The kettle whistled. He poured his tea, slowly, and took it back up the yellow steps toward the isolated light of the telegraphy office lamp, cup held close to his breastbone.

One of the telegraphs was clicking.

He leaned in, only curious at first, until he saw it was the machine for Great Scotland Yard and lurched to catch the end of the transcript paper. It almost always scrunched itself up after three inches. It creaked as it threatened to crush the paper, but yielded when he pulled. The newest dots and dashes of code came out shakily, in old man’s handwriting.

Fenians— left me a note promising that

The rest was still ticking through the clockwork, making little skittering stars through the gloomy room. He recognised the style of the operator before long. Superintendent Williamson coded in the same hesitant way in which he spoke. As it came through, the rest of the message was jerky and full of pauses.

—they will detonate bombs in all p—ublic buildings on— May 30, 1884. Six months from today. Williamson.

Thaniel pulled the machine toward him by the key.

This is Steepleton at the HO. Please confirm last message.

He had to wait a long time for the reply.

Just found— note on my desk. Bomb threat. Promises to— blow me off my stool. Signed Clan na Gael.

He stood still, bent over the telegraph. Williamson sent his own telegrams, and when he knew he was speaking to a familiar operator, he signed himself Dolly, as if they were all part of the same gentlemen’s club.

Are you all right? Thaniel asked.

Yes. A long silence. Must admit— a bit shaken. Going home.

You can’t go by yourself.

They won’t — do anything. If they say bombs in May – there will be bombs in May. It’s— Clan na Gael. They don’t bugger about lurking with cricket bats.

But why tell you now? Might be a trick to make you leave the office at a certain time.

No, no. To make us— afraid. They want Whitehall to know the day is coming. If enough politicians fear for their lives, they will listen better to Irish demands. They said ‘public buildings’. It won’t just be a matter of steering clear of Parliament for a day. They’re not interested in me. Honestly, I— know these people. I’ve locked up enough of them.

Careful then, Thaniel tapped grudgingly.

Thank you.

While the sounder was still clicking out the superintendent’s last word, Thaniel tore off the transcript and clipped through the dark corridor to a door at the far end, under which firelight bled. He knocked, then opened it. Inside, the senior clerk looked up and scowled.

‘I’m not here. This had better be important.’

‘It’s a message from the Yard.’

The senior clerk snatched it from him. The room was his office, and he had been reading in the deep armchair by the fire, his collar and tie abandoned on the floor. It was the same every night. The senior clerk claimed that he stayed because his wife snored, but Thaniel was starting to think that she must have forgotten about him by now and changed the locks. Once he had read the note, he nodded.

‘All right. You can go home. I’d better tell the Home Secretary.’

Thaniel nodded and left, quickly. He had never been told to leave early before, not even when he was ill. As he collected his coat and hat, he heard raised voices at the end of the corridor.

He lived in a boarding house just north of Millbank Prison, so close to the Thames that the cellar flooded every autumn. It was an eerie walk from Whitehall at night. Under the gas lamps, mist pawed at the windows of the closed shops, which became steadily shabbier nearer home. It was such a smooth ruination that he could have been walking forward through time, watching the same buildings age five years with every step, all still as a museum. But he was glad to be out of the office. The Home Office was the largest public building in London. It would be one of the targets in May. He turned his head aside as if he could avoid the thought, and pushed his hands deeper into his pockets. Last March, some Irishmen had tried to throw a bomb in through a ground-floor window. They had missed and managed only to blow up some bicycles in the street outside, but in the telegraphy office, the bang had made the floor jump. But they hadn’t been Clan na Gael, only a few angry boys with a bit of stolen dynamite.

The local beggar was sleeping under the boarding house’s wide porch.

‘Evening, George.’

‘Gngh,’ said George.

Inside, Thaniel climbed the wooden stairs as quietly as he could, because the walls were thin. His room was on the third floor, on the river side. Although the boarding house looked bleak from outside – the damp and the fog had streaked the outer walls with mildew – it was much better in. The rooms were plain and neat, each with a bed, a stove, and a plumbed sink. By rule of the landlady, the boarders were all single men, and given a bed and one meal a day for the flat annual cost of fifty pounds. Very much the same, in fact, as the inmates of the prison next door. He felt bitter about that sometimes. He had meant to do better in life than a prisoner. At the top of the steps, he saw that his door was already ajar.

He stopped, listening. He had nothing worth stealing, although at first glance, the locked box under his bed looked valuable. A burglar wasn’t to know that it was full of sheet music he hadn’t touched for years.

He stopped breathing so that he could hear properly. Everything was silent, but somebody else could have been holding his breath inside. After standing for a long time, he pushed the door open with his fingertips and stood sharply back. No one came out. Leaving the door open for the light, he snatched a match from the dresser and struck it against the wall. While he held the match to the lamp wick, the back of his neck pricked and burned with the certainty that somebody was about to shove past him.

When the lamp caught, the room was empty.

He stood holding the burned-down match, his back against the wall. Nothing was out of place. The match head crumbled off and hit the linoleum with a tap, leaving a smudge of black dust. He looked under the bed. The box of music was undisturbed. So were the savings he kept under the loose floorboard for his sister. It was only after he had set the floorboard back that he noticed the kettle was steaming. He put his fingertips against the side. It was hot, and when he opened the stove door, the coals were dusky red.

The crockery on the worktop was gone. He paused over that. It took a desperate burglar to steal unwashed dishes. He opened the cupboard to see if they had taken the cutlery too, and found the missing plates and bowls stacked inside. They were still warm. He left them and searched everything again. Nothing was missing, or nothing that he remembered to miss. Eventually he went back downstairs, perplexed. The cold outside felt sharper than it had a few minutes ago. As he pushed open the door, it rushed in at him, and he went out with his arms crossed tight. George was still asleep on the porch.

‘George! George,’ he said, giving him a shake and holding his breath. The old man smelled of unwashed clothes and animal fur. ‘My flat’s been burgled. Was it you?’

‘You haven’t got anything anyone would want to steal,’ George growled, with an authority that Thaniel decided not to question just for the moment.

‘Did you see anyone?’

‘I might have.’

‘I … ’ Thaniel went through his pockets. ‘I’ve got four pence and an elastic band.’

George sighed and sat up in his nest of grimy blankets to take the coins. From somewhere within the folds, his ferret squeaked. ‘I didn’t properly see, did I? I was asleep. Or I was trying.’

‘So you saw … ’

‘Pair of boots,’ he said.

‘I see,’ said Thaniel. George had been middle-aged when time began, and however annoying he was, certain allowances had to be made. ‘But lots of people live here.’

George shot him an irritable look. ‘If you spent all day down here on the ground, you’d know everyone’s boots, and none of you have got brown ones.’

Thaniel had not met most of his neighbours, but he was inclined to believe him. As far as he understood, they were all clerks of some kind; like him, they were all members of the crowd of black coats and black hats that swamped London for half an hour every morning and evening. Without meaning to, he looked down at his own black shoes. They were elderly but well polished.

‘Anything else?’ he said.

‘Christ, what’d he take that was so important?’


George hissed his breath out between his teeth. ‘What do you care, then? It’s late. Some of us want to get some sleep before the constable turfs us out at the crack of dawn.’

‘Oh, don’t whine. You come back forty seconds after he’s gone. Mystery person breaks into my flat, does the washing up and takes nothing. I’d like to know why.’

‘Sure it wasn’t your mother?’


George sighed. ‘Small brown boots. Foreign writing on the heel. Maybe a boy.’

‘I want my four pence back.’

‘Bugger off,’ George yawned, and lay back down again.

Thaniel went out on to the empty street with a half-formed hope of seeing a boy in brown boots somewhere up ahead. The ground shook as a late train passed underneath, sending up a cloud of steam through the grating in the pavement. Less quickly, he turned back inside. Taken twice in a row, the three flights of steps made his thighs ache.

Back in his room, he flicked open the door of the stove again. He sat down on the edge of the bed with his coat still on and held his hands toward the coals. A dark shape just beside him caught his eye. He stiffened because at first he thought it was a mouse, but it wasn’t moving. It was a velvet box, tied with a white ribbon. He had never seen it before. He picked it up. It was heavy. On the ribbon was a circular label, etched with leaf patterns. In an angular, calligraphic hand it read: ‘To Mr Steepleton’. He pulled off the ribbon and opened the box. The hinge was stiff but did not squeak. Inside was a pocket watch.

Slowly, he lifted it out. It was made of a rosy gold he hadn’t seen before. The chain slithered gently after it, the links all smoothed flawless, without the slightest hairline space or ripple of solder to show where they had been joined. He wound it through his fingers until the clasp at the end tapped against his cufflink. The catch would not open when he pressed it. He held it to his ear, but the clockwork was silent and the spindle refused to wind. Somewhere in its workings, though, a few cogs must have been alive, because despite the dank cold, the case was warm.

‘It’s your birthday,’ he said suddenly to the empty room, and sagged, feeling stupid. Annabel must have come. She knew his address from his letters and he had sent her a key for emergencies. He had always assumed, in the absence of money for the train fare, that her promises to come up to London were a sisterly nothing. George’s mysterious boy was probably one of her sons. The calligraphy would have given her away sooner if he had been less tired and less distracted. Although it ought to have been the job of the butler, she had always written the place settings if the old duke was having a dinner party. He could remember doing arithmetic problems at their kitchen table when he was too small for his feet to reach the floor, while opposite him, her good pen hissed over the cards and their father made fishing flies in a vice.

He held the watch a moment longer before setting it on the wooden chair by the bed, the one that served as a table for collars and cufflinks. The gold caught the ember-light and shone the colour of a human voice.


The following day Thaniel could not stop thinking about what the proper name for a fear of big machinery was. He couldn’t remember, but he had had it when he first came to London. It had been worst at railway crossings beside overground stations, where the steam engines would stop, fuming, ten feet away from people picking their way over the lines. The lake of tracks outside Victoria station was still not his favourite place. There had been dozens of tiny things like that, things that didn’t matter until something went wrong, like getting lost, whereupon, catching at thoughts as they did, they made thinking much more difficult than it would have been anywhere else.

He was sure that Annabel was all right. She had been pragmatic even before she had her boys. But she had never been to London before, and she had left no messages with the landlady or the Home Office porters.

More to soothe his own unease than out of any real fear for her, he sent a telegram to her post office in Edinburgh from the desk at work, in case she had had to go home already. He bought some biscuits and some sugar for proper tea on his way home, though, in case she hadn’t. The grocer at the end of Whitehall Street had started opening in the early mornings to catch the home-going night-workers.

Annabel wasn’t there when he got back but he was cooking when there came a small tap at the door. He opened it with his shirtsleeves still rolled up, beginning to apologise that the flat smelled of dinner at nine in the morning, then stopped when he saw that it wasn’t Annabel but a boy with a post office badge and an envelope. There was a clipboard for him to sign. He signed it. The telegram was from Edinburgh.

What do you mean? Am in Edinburgh as usual. Never left. HO driven you mad at last. Will send whisky. Told can be beneficial. Happy returns. Sorry to have forgotten again. Love A.

He put the paper face down next to him. The watch was where he had left it on the chair. Because of the steam from the pan, it was dull from condensation, but the gold still hummed its voice colour.

He went to the police station on his way to work the next morning, incoherent from the switch of time that always made midweek difficult. He was snorted at by the desk officer and asked not completely unreasonably whether the culprit might be Robin Hood. He nodded and laughed but as he left a creeping worry seeped back. At the office he mentioned it during a tea break. The other telegraphists looked at him oddly and made only vaguely interested noises. He stayed quiet after that. For the next few weeks, he expected someone to own up, but nobody did.

The sound of the ships creaking outside his window was not something he usually noticed. It was there always, louder when the tide was in. It stopped on a cold morning in February. The river had frozen the hulls into place overnight. The quiet woke him. He lay still in bed, listening and watching his breath whiten. Wind hissed in the window frame, which was loose where the pane had shrunk. The glass had mostly steamed over, but he could make out part of a furled sail. The canvas didn’t move even when the hiss became a whistle. When the wind dropped, there was nothing. He blinked twice, because everything looked suddenly too pale.

Today the silence had a silver hem. He turned his head against the pillow, toward the chair of collars and cufflinks, and a faint sound became clearer. The outer side of the blankets felt clammy when he moved his arm to lift up the watch. It was much warmer than it should have been, as usual. As he moved it, the chain slipped almost off the edge of the chair, but it was long enough not to fall and made a gold slack rope.

Holding it close to his ear, he could hear mechanisms going. They were so quiet he couldn’t tell if they had started just then, or had been turning all along and masked by other things. He pressed it against his shirt until he couldn’t hear it at all, then lifted it again, trying to compare it to his memory of yesterday’s version of silence and its shadow colours. Eventually he sat up and pressed the catch. It still wouldn’t open.

He got up and dressed, but stopped with his shirt half buttoned. He didn’t know whether it was even possible for clockwork to start itself after two months dead. He was still thinking about it when his eyes caught on the door latch. It was up. He pushed the handle. The door was unlocked. He opened it. Although the corridor was empty, it wasn’t quiet; water mumbled in the pipes and there were steps and sudden bright thumps as his neighbours got themselves ready for work. He hadn’t left the door unlocked once since the burglary in November, or not that he knew; he did forget things spectacularly every now and then. He closed the door again.

On his way out, he stopped, thumped his knuckles slowly against the door frame, and went back for the watch. If somebody were tampering with it, leaving it out in his room all day only made the task easier. The thought made his stomach turn nastily, though God knew what kind of burglar came back to adjust previously deposited presents. Not the cricket-bat-and-mask kind, but then, he didn’t know all of the kinds. He wished the policeman hadn’t laughed so much.

The open latch was still on his mind as he climbed up the yellow stairs, unwinding his scarf. From a combination of the cold and tapping at telegraph keys, his fingertips had roughened and kept catching on the wool. He was halfway up when the senior clerk came down and pushed a sheaf of papers into his chest.

‘For your will,’ was the explanation. ‘No later than the end of next month, understand? Or we’ll drown in paperwork. And sort out Park, will you?’

Puzzled, he went on to the telegraphy department, where the youngest clerk had burst into tears. He paused in the doorway, then dredged up something that at least looked like sympathy. He believed firmly in a soldier’s right to cry in public upon surviving the attentions of the surgeon, and a miner’s after being lifted from a shaft collapse. He wasn’t convinced in the least that anyone in an office at the HO had anything to cry about. He was also aware, though, that this was probably a very unfair thing to think. Park looked up when he asked what the matter was.

‘Why do we have to make out wills? Are we going to be bombed?’

Thaniel took him downstairs for a cup of tea. When he shepherded him back upstairs, they found the others in a similar state.

‘What’s all this?’ he said.

‘Have you seen these will papers?’

‘It’s only a formality. I shouldn’t worry about it.’

‘Have they issued them before?’

He laughed, had to, but forced himself to keep it slight and quiet. ‘No, but we’re up to our eyes in unnecessary forms. Remember that one about not taking money from the Prussian intelligence services for secret naval information? For what, when we run into a Prussian spy in one of their many haunts near the Trafalgar Square tea-and-horrible-coffee stall? I expect we’ve all been very vigilant there. Just sign it and lob it at Mr Croft when he comes past.’

‘What are you going to write?’

‘Nothing, I haven’t got anything anyone would want,’ he said, but then realised that it was a lie. He took the watch out of his pocket. It was real gold.

‘Thank you for looking after me,’ Park said. He was folding and refolding a handkerchief. ‘You’re awfully good. It’s like having my dad here.’

‘You’re no trouble,’ he murmured, before he felt a little sting. He almost said that he wasn’t so much older than all the rest of them, then saw that it wouldn’t have been fair. It didn’t matter how much older. He was older; even if they had all been the same age, he would still have been older.

They both jumped when all twelve telegraphs burst into clattering. Transcript paper crumpled under the speed of the messages, and there was a scrabble as everybody reached for pencils to take the code down by hand. Because they were all concentrating on individual letters, he was the first to hear that the machines were all saying the same thing.

Urgent, bomb detonated in

Victoria Station destroyed

—station severely damaged

—hidden in cloakroom

—sophisticated clockwork in the cloakroom

Victoria Station

—officers dispatched, possible casualties

—Clan na Gael.

Thaniel shouted for the senior clerk, who ran in, looking like thunder with tea spilled down his waistcoat. Once he understood, the rest of the day was spent speeding messages between departments and the Yard, and refusing comments to the newspapers. Thaniel had no idea how they managed to get hold of direct Whitehall lines, but they always did. From down the corridor, there came a bellow. It was the Home Secretary shouting at the editor of The Times to stop his journalists blocking the wires. By the time the shift ended, the tendons in the backs of Thaniel’s hands hurt and the copper keys had made his skin smell of money.

None of them discussed it, but instead of parting ways at the end of the shift, they walked together to Victoria. They found crowds, because the trains had been stopped for the day, and then, closer to the building, bricks everywhere. Since everybody else was more interested in finding out when the services would resume, it wasn’t difficult to get to the edge of the wrecked cloakroom. The wooden rafters were blasted as though something monstrous had broken out. A top hat still sat in the rubble, and a red scarf had turned greyish where frost stuck it to the bricks. Policemen were clearing the wreckage from the outside in, breath steaming. After a while they started to look warily at the four telegraphists. Thaniel could see it must have looked strange, four thin clerks lined up neatly in black and staying to look for much longer than anyone else. They broke apart. Rather than go straight home, he walked around St James’s Park first, soaking in the nearly green grass and the empty, raked-over flowerbeds. It was so open, though, that the great fronts of the Admiralty and the Home Office still looked close. He wished for some proper woods. On the wish’s tail came an urge to go up to Lincoln for a visit, but there was another man living in the gamekeeper’s cottage now, and a new duke at the big house.

He went home circuitously, avoiding Parliament.

‘See this?’ George the beggar said, holding up a newspaper at him when he went by. The front page was mostly taken up with an etching of the blasted station.

‘Just now.’

‘What times, eh? Wouldn’t have had this when I was a lad.’

‘But they burned all the Catholics in those days, didn’t they,’ said Thaniel. He looked down at the picture. Seeing it in a newspaper made it more real than seeing it in person, and suddenly he felt annoyed with himself. They were supposed to have their affairs in order. In order meant a state which relatives could make sense of if it all went badly in May. Annabel would never sell something like a watch, even if she was scraping to keep the boys in clothes that fitted. It was no use willing it to her.

‘Oh, har har,’ snarled George. ‘Wait, where are you going?’

‘Pawn shop. Changed my mind about something.’

Just beyond the prison was a pawnbroker who called himself a jeweller despite the three gold balls outside the shop.

The front window was hung about with shabby-looking gold and pasted with advertisements for other shops or by people with second-hand things too big to bring in person. The newest was one of the police notices to keep watch. It was clerkishly pedantic of him, but he was starting to feel tetchy about those. Bombers did not go about trailing wires and fuses.

‘Silly, isn’t it?’ the pawnbroker said, seeing him frown. ‘Been coming round pasting those up all over the place for months. I keep saying, all our bombers are safe locked up.’ He nodded to the prison. ‘But up they go.’ He had one stuck to the top of the counter too, and peeled it off to show another underneath. The paste had made it translucent and there was another under that, so that ‘keep watch’ had a diagonal, fading shadow.

‘They’re everywhere at Whitehall,’ Thaniel said,

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  • (4/5)
    Nathaniel Steepleton--Thaniel, to his friends--is a telegrapher in the British Home Office in the 1880s. He's very good at it, but he was a talented pianist, before his brother-in-law died and left him responsible for the support of his sister and two nephews. Supporting a sister and nephews in Scotland requires a reliable income, so he's sold the piano, become a telegraphy clerk, and is living a much quieter, more circumscribed life, so he can send half his salary to his sister.

    Then one day in May he comes home to find that his flat has apparently been burgled--except that nothing is missing. In fact, a watch has been left--a very good watch. The maker's paper inside indicates it was made by a Mr. Mori of Filigree Street. It's strange and unaccountable, but beyond talking to his friend Dolly Williams at Scotland Yard, there's not much else to be done. And it's a good watch. Besides, the far more interesting information is that Irish nationalists have announced that government buildings will be blown up in November--six months off.

    Six months later, an alarm on the watch goes off, drawing him out of a bar near Scotland Yard and the Home Office, which is badly damaged when Scotland Yard blows up. The strange watch that just turned up has saved his life.

    Grace Carrow, a young lady pursuing the unfashionable (for ladies) study of physics at Oxford, also receives a watch. In her case it's a gift.from her brother. It's also the work of Mr. Mori of Filigree Street. Grace is determined to prove the existence of ether and measure the speed at which light moves through it.

    Checking out Mr. Mori and his clockwork draws Thaniel into some strange experiences. Mr. Mori seems quiet, friendly, and harmless, yet strange things happen around him. One of them is that within days he's been poached by the Foreign Office because they are short on skilled telegraphers, and he knows Japanese. Thaniel doesn't know Japanese, but he's just taken a room at Mr. Mori's because Williams at Scotland Yard wants him to keep an eye on Mori, and Mr. Mori is happy to teach him...

    Meanwhile, Grace's studies are temporarily at an end because she didn't get her ether experiment successfully included in time to win a fellowship before she had to go back to her parents' home in London. Lord and Lady Carrow are determined to marry her off to a now-widowed old friend, a senior official at the Foreign Office--in fact, the very one who poached Thaniel. (This official's name is pronounced Fanshaw. Since I listened to the audiobook, I can't swear to the spelling referenced in the dialog, but I'm guessing "Fetherstonhaugh.)

    They meet at the Foreign Office ball, and things continue to get weirder and weirder. It's an understatement, really, to say strange things happen around Mr. Mori. He answers the question you were thinking of, rather than the one you asked. He remembers things you haven't told him yet, and things you haven't done yet.

    And he makes the best clockwork in London, well able to act as timers for bombs set to go off days or weeks after they're placed. He's such an obvious suspect, as the bomb maker for the Irish nationalists.

    This is a complex and winding plot, that starts slowly but builds toward a great climax. Thaniel, Grace, Mori, Williams, Fetherstonhaugh, and other characters around them are portrayed with sensitivity and intelligence.

    It's a great read, a great listen, and really drew me in completely.


    I received a free copy of the audiobook from Audible.com in exchange for an honest review.
  • (3/5)
    I'm not sure what I expected of this book but it was quite different. A cunningly disguised love story with a conspiratorial, steam punk-ish seeing. A bit weird, but interesting.
  • (4/5)
    Charming and almost perfect. I enjoyed the more measured pace, being allowed to live in the universe before the explosions went off and to realize on my own, sans inner angsty musings, what was going on with the characters - who are some of the best realized in any fantasy fiction. The dialog is the best! The charming Matsumoto is likely to be recognized by women who have encountered an upper class Japanese man at university. It is adult and whimsical. Katsu redeems all gratuitous steampunk octopi.
  • (1/5)
    A rambling, and at times difficult to follow tale of a watchmaker and his infatuated companion. Poorly paced with long periods of low velocity plot drive, this was a labour (& not of love). Characterisations here were I felt, unsympathetic, and I found them difficult to follow, like or get involved with. Poor. Avoid.
  • (3/5)
    Thaniel, a telegraphy clerk in the Home Office is saved from a bomb explosion by a siren from a watch which appeared in his lodgings six months previously. He goes to see the watchmaker, Mori, to try to determine if Mori was involved in the creation of the bomb, planted by Irish nationalists. He is drawn to Mori, but at the same time is promoted to the Japanese branch of the Foreign Office (and miraculously develops far greater social confidence overnight) and is asked by Scotland Yard to spy on Mori for them. In a second strand, Grace, in the fourth year at LMH is trying to prove a scientific hypothesis and meets Thaniel at a FO ball. Thaniel offers to marry Grace so he can thereby inherit her aunt's house and she can use it as a laboratory. Thaniel introduces Grace to Mori and they dislike each other.I found the start of this novel slow, but enjoyable. All the chapters with Mori and his clockwork octopus in were interesting and I liked the way Thaniel's loyalties twisted. SPOILERS The part where Grace proved that Mori could indeed see the future went completely over my head. I didn't understand any of the last 20% really. Why did Grace suddenly decide Thaniel would have to choose between her and Mori? I thought she just wanted a laboratory? Why such desperate measures? Why did Mori "collapse" into a chair at the very end?
  • (2/5)
    This gorgeous cover lead me down a winding path of frustration and annoyance (and not in the good way). I am surrounded by people who loved this book and I am so perplexed as to why it is so adored in its current state. It has become a joke amongst my friends that this book gave me a kind of "reading PTSD" where if it is brought up I go into several rants.This book has an interesting premise and is boiling over with potential. So much so, that I stuck through it to the bitter end binge reading it for an entire day just hoping to get a moment of satisfaction I kept feeling should be around the corner. It never came. Without getting too much into the story (because if I start, I will not stop and this review will end up being a massive rant along with what I already intend to say), the book is filled with language that is confusing and trying too hard to be smart. It is difficult to tell who is talking when in several parts of the book. The overall writing style gives off a condescending nature which isn't pleasurable to read. You do not need to try to sound smart to your reader to have them believe this is a smart and complex story. The story itself can speak for that. There are random flashback scenes that instead of making you excited to know more about a character's backstory, make you want to sigh and skip over it despite knowing that somewhere buried in it is something important. In the acknowledgements, we are told that she was assisted in cutting out the unnecessary parts and everything was cleaned up. It feels as if that rarely happened (and if it did I almost hate to see how much else was originally in it) and it felt more like many parts were instances the author fell in love with and just couldn't let go (I am guilty of this myself).The characters themselves are interesting. We have Thaniel who is a pianist stuck working a job trying to support his sister and her family who has synesthesia (I loved the scenes where it goes into detail just how he sees the world. I wanted so much more of it). We have the mysterious watchmaker who Thaniel becomes fascinated by. And we have the girl who doesn't fit in and simply wants to work on her scientific theories instead of doing what is expected of her (okay the female character feels kinda wedged in just to fill a small purpose and despite liking her initially, she just felt more and more as an afterthought as the book went on). I'm annoyed to see these characters fall short of where I believed they should be.Along with the story, we have a lot of Japanese influence (as the author spent some time in Japan I am told), however some parts of it seemed very much what some would call "weeaboo" parts. Essentially, it heavily feels like an outsider looking in on Japanese culture and obsessing over it to a degree. Honestly, it is to be expected however since she was never born and raise in the culture itself, but I feel some of what was written about the culture seemed too stereotypical. This isn't too much of a big qualm, but something to think about when writing in this universe or others with the Japanese culture involved. I am not Japanese however, so take my opinion with a grain of salt I suppose.Now, and I won't spoil too much of it, but a romance blossoms between two of the characters. In a way, it felt like something that should have happened (or was expected) while at the same time being somewhat shoved in and unhealthy in a other ways. The book makes you question one of the persons in the relationship's motives and power over the other character (and a concerning idea comes up from the third party) and it is lightly brushed aside at the end with some fluff. It just was poorly executed. I feel people are two blinded by the fact that those two characters got together that they instantly love the book instead of seeing the problems.In the end, I felt this book was trying too hard to be a BBC show like Sherlock. It feels like its entire outline runs like an episode (or a multipart special), which can be a good or bad thing depending on the execution. In this instance, a bad thing. Now if it were better executed and overall just written better, I would be all for it. I could say I adored this book and want more, which right now I do not. Deep down however, I desperately want this idea and overall story, along with the characters, to succeed. A part of me wants this to be a tv special series instead and allow us to see everything more developed. I want this story to be so much better than it is. And I believe it is possible.Natasha, if you ever read this review do not give up hope in your writing. This is your first book after all. Please continue writing and refine your work. One day come back to this and rewrite it. I'm certain after you gain more experience that you will indeed create the work I, and several others, hoped this would be. I want to see more of this couple, but build their relationship healthily and make it more than just what it is currently. Show us they love each other. Or you could go the other route and bring back up the motives and power and maybe make it a complex relationship that needs exploring. More than just "BAM! They are together now." I truly believe you are capable. Just go after it.
  • (3/5)
    pretty good. it was an entertaining bit of historical fluff combined with magic and 19th c style science fiction, plus some modern thematic undercurrents (e.g homosexuality). can't say i followed all of it as it was a bit complex with the fantastic 'scientific' imagination. would not read her second book.
  • (3/5)
    Six-word review: Engaging, original concept not fully realized.Extended review:Nineteenth-century London, Japanese culture, bombs, clockwork, terrorists, politics, physics, romance; memory, foreknowledge, consciousness, choice, consequences. And an endearing mechanical mascot. What a promising list of ingredients!Unfortunately the author just doesn't have the muscle to pull off what she's trying to do here. She's the singer who breaks on the high note, the gymnast who can't stick her dismount. Not that we aren't rooting for her. The idea is strong. The main character is appealing. The devices she imagines sound almost plausible enough to be real (in a magical sort of way), and the notion of a character who remembers alternative futures before they occur works as a concept within the bounds of the world she creates.But something happens between the plan and the execution. Little fumbles along the way--muddled sentences, minor logical slips, small missed connections--seem to snowball in the last fifty pages or so, and suddenly we're lost. What just happened? Did I completely lose the thread? Did the story slip a gear? Did somebody's character come completely undone?Is this the outcome we've been building up to? Really?Actually, no, I don't think it is. Rather, the author seems to have lost control of her material, and nobody pulled her back in.Nobody made her go back and look at colorless-green-ideas sentences like these:68, Ito, who had just returned from a long stint in America, thought of escaping oranges.But he wanted to lock himself upstairs and sleep until he could wake into something else.308, 'I don't like being a future goldfish, it makes me perpetually mistrustful of my past self.'Nobody made her ditch some terrible coined adverbs:133, piggily207, purply272, tinilyNobody helped her correct numerous wrongly nuanced expressions and overt malapropisms:49, The watchmaker must have been waiting to hear the clatter of fabricA clatter is a percussive sound made by the impact of hard things striking one another. Fabric does not clatter.65, ...dropped straight down on to his knees and pressed his forehead to the cobblestones. This genuflection...Genuflection means bending the knee--not a full kowtow, which is what's being described here.214, I really haven't the time to soothe your ensuing alcoholismSurely she meant "incipient," not "ensuing."239, He pulled Fanshaw's dictionary across the desk and stole a supernumerary pencil"Supernumerary" doesn't just mean "spare," never mind "available." It's in excess of some proper or prescribed amount; or it's the term you use for so-called spear-carriers in an opera, extras who stand silent guard by the gates or fill out a crowd scene but have no actual role. The number of pencils on hand is both unstated and irrelevant here; nothing (except a needless distraction) is lost if the six-syllable adjective is simply deleted. He picked up a pencil. Who cares if it's extra, borrowed, stray, or one of a perfect set? It's just a writing implement and has no importance in the story, much less the weight attached to it by an ostentatious word like "supernumerary."Nobody told her that narrative prose isn't the place for a writer's-notebook line like this:99, the grumbling humming of the bumblebeesNobody, in fact, seems to have been on duty for the whole last muddy sixth of it. What actually happened? Where did that come from? How does this explain what went before?All this notwithstanding, I liked this book. I wanted it to be better. It's good in a way that The Night Circus should have been but wasn't. By that I mean that it has an honest feel, it shows some depth, and it aspires to be something more than the average crowd-pleaser without preening and posturing. The misuse of words looks more like an excess of enthusiasm than pretentiousness to me.What I'd really like to see, if it were up to me, would be for the author to get on with her writing career, publish three or four more novels (maybe bringing back the delightful Katsu?), and then come back and rewrite this one when she's gained a lot more experience. She may not have the muscle right now, but she looks like someone who can build it up with practice. Oh, and training.And someone to watch those dismounts.
  • (4/5)
    Thaniel Steepleton is an unassuming British public servant. Once, he had dreams of becoming a pianist, but now he has to support his distant, widowed sister's family, so he's tied to his job as a telegraph operator, and doesn't expect anything in his rather dull and ascetic life to change.

    However, an anonymous gift of a clearly valuable watch becomes suspicious when it ends up saving him from an Irish terrorist group's bomb. Soon, he's assigned to spy on Keita Mori, a Japanese watchmaker living in London... a job where his sympathies will end up being sorely tested.

    Meanwhile, a young student, Grace Carrow, is conducting experiments designed to prove the existence of ether. However, her scientific career seems fated to come to an abrupt end due to her gender: her father will not give her an inheritance unless she is married, and so far her inquiries have not been fruitful. Her best friend, an aristocratic Japanese student, seems thoroughly uninterested in the possibility of marriage to an Englishwoman, so her future is uncertain.

    When it comes right down to it, this is a faux-Victorian paranormal romance. However, it's told with a delicate touch. The style reminded me of the 'filigree' of the title - ornately detailed, finely crafted, and lovely. The magical elements are understated; the romance is a slow burn where more is implied than told. Yet the story is both accessible and interest-gripping: I found myself putting down other books in order to keep on with this one instead.

    Many thanks to Bloomsbury USA and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book - which turned out to be even better than I'd expected! As always, my opinions are my own.
  • (4/5)
    The book is about a Japanese man in Victorian London (with a little of his back story in Japan) who makes the most amazingly intricate machines, akin to modern computers in their sophistication, but all out of clockwork. He also sees possibilities and remembers the future. Can he be trusted not to engineer events for his own purposes? I wouldn't really go along with the description of steampunk; rather the author weaves an elaborate fantasy into a convincing historical setting. I thought it an excellent book and didn't want to put it down after the first few chapters. I rather like the idea of reducing human behaviour to a series of more predictable events. It has left me with a yearning to examine some precision engineering (sewing machines are my thing, but if someone wanted to buy me a pocket watch...).
  • (4/5)
    I wasn't particularly impressed by the first couple of chapters but it had gotten such good reviews that I kept going - and I'm very glad I did. Mori is a wonderfully complex, fascinating character, and I adored him. I'm not sure the other main characters lived up to him for complexity, but I'm willing to be convinced.
  • (4/5)
    This is one of those odd books you pick up because it has an interesting cover. And it was amazing - the book moves fast, the places are interesting, the characters fully realized, and the magic is important, it doesn't overwhelm the rest of the story. The characters in the book are actually written with 1883 conventions- rather than modern characters set in history as many other books in the genre are written in.The locations in this book are quite believable. I like that there is no mysticism from the Japanese characters - many of the characters are administration - trying to reconcile old Japan with modernization, as well as keeping an eye on the budget. The characters are human. Not better, not worst, than anyone else in the bookOf course - its not perfect, I believe its a first novel, and few places the writing was a bit clunky and over done, especially to the character of Grace Carrow, who is a total scientist and understands what Mori's talent is. I like the touch of Grace studying Ether, which is totally discounted today. The relationship between Mori and Thaniel is touching - it feels right for the time. The ending is a bit saccharine - but it is satisfying.Over all - this is an excellent book to read - and I hope that the author writes more books with these characters.
  • (5/5)
    I received this book through Muse Monthly, a book & tea subscription service; I sat down to read without knowing anything beyond what the title and cover revealed, and rather enjoyed the surprise.The settings are easy to immerse oneself in; they feel very natural and accessible, something that cannot be said for all historical fiction. I think the limited number of locations helped them feel more real, because we regularly returned to them, instead of constantly setting out to new places.The characters are distinct and unique. I was disappointed not to see more of a few, given the links and connections established between some of them. There was one POV character who I really failed to connect with, and I struggled not to skim her chapters. Her role in the overall plot felt somewhat tacked on, honestly. Her role in the main character's plot, and the book's climax, were both easy to spot ahead- not necessarily a bad thing, given some elements of the book's plot, but my lack of enthusiasm for her made it a bit less exciting than it might have been.The plot is a bit meandering; the main character does have a goal fairly early on in the novel, but the sense of urgency is only played up occasionally. It's a very character driven book, overall.I really enjoyed this book, and would pick up more of the author's work if I came across it.
  • (4/5)
    Thaniel (Nathaniel Steepleton) is a civil servant. He works in the Home Office as a telegraphist, supporting his widowed sister and her children, having given up his career as a pianist. for her. One day he comes back to his rooms to find a watch on his bed, a watch that saves his life and it brings his life and the watchmaker's, Keita Mori into collision. At the same time Grace Carrow is trying to keep at her academic life and avoid what society expects while also trying to work out her complicated relationship with Akira Mtsumoto. Mori has some strange toys make of clockwork, including a sock-stealing octopus and the ability to see into the future.It was charming, I had moments where it faltered but this had an interesting world to offer. Looking back I can see some things I didn't notice as important at first but overall it was an interesting read. I would read more by this author.
  • (3/5)
    I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.This book has many charming elements with its blend of Sherlock Holmes and light steampunk, but in the end so many things were left muddled. Thaniel is the protagonist, a young man who is left with a pocket watch under mysterious circumstances. When the watch saves his life, he sets out to finds its maker: a Japanese man named Mori. Their relationship is one of the great joys of the book. Their banter and friendship grows into something that is handled with a light touch quite in keeping with the voice of the Victorian period.The other perspective of the book is Grace, a rebellious daughter of a lord and an Oxford-educated scientist. I never was able to fully grasp her viewpoint, and her role in events at the end is explained in an info dump that still leaves her motivations unclear.Mori's powers of clairvoyance create a magical realism element. This is handled well for the most part, though the introduction of fantastical weather-changing powers at the end didn't fit with the rest of the world-building. I enjoyed reading of a Japanese man in London during this period, and again, I loved his relationship with Thaniel. Oh, and katsu. I adored katsu!The real problem was the climax. The true villain of the novel was far too obvious from the start, and the way things came together kept too manipulated by the author, rather than manipulated by Mori. I kept thinking "Huh? What? And it's being explained like THAT?" Plus... katsu. Sigh. I really hoped I'd like this a lot more than I did.
  • (4/5)
    For about the first half of this book, I was absolutely riveted, and then things sort of came apart at the seams for me. I really hoped the author could pull it off, but particularly the final third of the novel felt far too rushed in parts and far too meandering in others. I needed more from a couple of the characters in order to make much of the plot work. That said, the basic premise is really neat, and there are elements here which are absolutely top-rate (I loved the idea of the clockwork sock-hoarding "pet" octopus). I will look forward with anticipation to Pulley's future work; this book shows that she's got tremendous potential.
  • (2/5)
    The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley was a book I thought I would like. The premise is great, there is mystery, intrigue, a mechanical octopus, it's set in the Victorian era, the cover is beautiful. All reasons for me to love this book. However, I did not love this book. It was a struggle for me to get through. The main characters, Thaniel and Morey had great potential, however, I just couldn't get sucked into the story. Finally, about 75% of the way through, I started to want to know how it would end, and I was able to finish it quickly. I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, I just wished the story lived up to it's promise!
  • (4/5)
    This is one of those books that I enjoyed but that I got to the end of and hardly knew what happened or how to review it. It's 1883 and Thaniel Steepleton is a telegraphist for the Home Office and one day he returns home and there is a clockwork watch in his room. He's puzzled by its appearance but some months later the watch saves his life from a bomb. He traces the maker of the watch, a Japanese man called Keita Mori to whom there is more than meets the eye. The third person in the story is Grace Carrow, a young scientist whose life becomes intertwined with the two men.This is a fascinating and interesting book and I really enjoyed reading it. It needed some concentration and as I said, I'm not entirely sure it all made sense but it's clever and intricately plotted. Oh, and there's a wonderful array of clockwork inventions that really make the story original. I liked Thaniel very much - he's level-headed and kind and I just wanted things to work out well for him. Great read.
  • (4/5)
    I don't know how I feel about this book as a whole; I didn't love it but it sucked me in completely and it stayed with me. So, to break it down: I hate Grace. She is awful and selfish. I love Mori's clockwork shop - it's so vivid in my mind's eye and it's metallically magical. I am in LOVE with Katsu, Mori's clockwork octopus; I'm not alone in this, he steals the entire book and I'm more than a little peeved with the author. I want a Katsu - possibly more than I want a dodo named Pickwick. I liked Thaniel and Mori, Mori probably a bit more. For all the time we spend with Thaniel he remains elusive; I came away with a much better understanding of Mori, a character who shares almost nothing. I can say this with confidence: I think the author lost control of her story a bit. The bombing is the pivotal event that kicks the story off, but then completely falls away for the middle 2/3s of the book - it's never even mentioned - only to be wrapped up in a few lines of dialogue at the end. It feels like the middle 2/3s is the story she wanted to tell, but needed a prop to hold it up, then tacked a resolution to it onto the end as an afterthought. It's a weird superficiality in a book full of depth. Would I recommend this? I don't know - it might be worth reading just for the clock worth octopus!
  • (5/5)
    Great writing that keeps your attention consistently . Read it
  • (5/5)
    This was a great fantasy read. A very good story, very well written. I really enjoyed it and look forward to my next Natasha Pully novel!
  • (5/5)
    Absolutely loved this book!! I was hooked quickly and kept on the hook until the very end. It's one of those books that you hate to end because you don't want to leave the world. Wonderfully written, so sad to have finished it so quickly! The mixture of historical knowledge and fantasy was beautiful!
  • (5/5)
    It just eked out a five (I hate giving 5s, I feel dirty, like I can be had for the sake of a gripping conclusion and an unexpected tear), and would be a solid 4.5 or 9/10 if we had a better scale. I'm rounding up because it was so fresh and inventive.

    In many ways, not much happened ... if you're used to fantasy novels where breathless pursuits follow exciting chases, only to result in terrific battles and astonishing plot twists, then this book will be a massive change of pace. It's gentle. It's a character study--almost a bildungsroman--the plot (it doesn't seem like there's much plot, but by the end you realize there was quite a bit) surprised, and the romance was charming (though I could see it unfolding from a mile away, which is fine).

    An awfully good book. I look forward to more from the author.

    (Note: 5 stars = amazing, wonderful, 4 = very good book, 3 = decent read, 2 = disappointing, 1 = awful, just awful. I'm fairly good at picking for myself so end up with a lot of 4s).
  • (4/5)
    Thaniel Steepleton is a low-level telegraphist with the British Home Office. One morning, after a long night shift, he finds a mysterious package sitting on his bed. Inside is a watch he is unable to open, though he can hear the clockwork moving inside. Forgetting about the mysterious watch as the months go by, Thaniel is drawn with the rest of the government into investigating bomb threats being made by Irish Nationalists. When the watch saves him from such a blast, Thaniel is determined to get to the bottom of the timepiece’s mystery. Seeking out the maker of the piece, a Japanese Baron turned watchmaker, Thaniel finds a quiet, unassuming man. As events continue, it appears more and more that Keita Mori is hiding something. Thaniel must weigh his growing regard for the kindly Mori with his increasing suspicion that he may be at the center of the bombings in London.This is a neat little book, and took me down unexpected paths. In the interests of keeping my reviews spoiler free, I won’t elaborate any more on the plot here, but suffice to say that having started the book, I could not have predicted where it would wind up. There are elements of fantasy and steampunk in this story, but these aspects don’t seem intrusive, which is a fairly easy trap to fall into in this genre. Rather, the book felt like a historical mystery, with the more fantastical elements providing a gilding along the edges.The characters of Thaniel Steepleton and Keita Mori are richly drawn. Mori, especially, is well done. As the plot weaves on, we come to regard both he and Thaniel as sympathetic characters, yet we are left guessing until the very end of the book whether or not Mori is a villain.Fans of historical mystery, steampunk, or historical fantasy will find a great deal to like in this book. The book lies somewhere between the historical-with-a-bit-of-supernatural Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Raybourn, and the vividly steampunk Magnificent Devices series by Shelly Adina.
  • (3/5)
    Tried so hard to finished this book. But it’s just so boring and there are characters in the book that made me wonder why I’m reading about them. It started so promising but it just did not fall through with me. After reading about 70% of the book I just have to end the torture and give up.
  • (5/5)
    Thaniel leads a rather boring, but ordinary life, until he finds his apartment has been broken into. Yet nothing was stolen – instead, a strange pocket watch was left for him, though he cannot open it and has no idea who it might be from. Months go by before the watch opens, and after an alarm on the watch saves him from a fatal explosion at Scotland Yard, Thaniel decides to seek out the maker of the watch for answers. What he finds is a somewhat eccentric Japanese watchmaker and develops a friendship that will change his life.Here it comes guys….I. Loved. This. Book. I know! I say this a lot (but seriously, I know my tastes pretty well by now and I’m usually an accurate judge of what books I’ll love) but for a debut novel, this was a home run. I was drawn in by the cover art when browsing at the library and the Pulley hooked me slowly with her writing. At first, this book had very little plot. Readers are introduced to Thaniel and his hum-drum life, and then we’re introduced to Mori, the watchmaker who spices up his life. What develops is a quirky, but strong friendship between the two men and Mori’s “pet”, a clockwork octopus named Katsu.What really pulled me in were the characters in this book. First off, I desperately want my own Katsu and he might be my favorite character, despite him being a mechanical octopus that supposedly acts on random gear settings. When I first picked up the book, I was confused by the octopus graphics on the cover and spine, but after finishing the story, I consider Katsu a main character and certainly understand his relevance in the artwork. Watchmaker focuses mostly on the characters and the development of their relationships, so at first I was just reading along, and while I was interested in and enjoying what I was reading, I wasn’t invested. Suddenly, the plot picked up and I realized that I was hooked on these people and I cared about what happened to them and hadn’t realized it until danger appeared.I don’t want to give anything away, but there was a somewhat surprising twist, one that I was hoping would happen, but didn’t think actually would. I think what came from that twist really gave this book a unique feel, especially for one set in the 1840s in England, and I’m glad Pulley went there. I certainly hope she writes more in this universe, but no matter what, I’m looking forward to what she creates next. If you like historical fiction with a steampunk (or…clockwork) twist, and you don’t mind the plot taking the backseat to character development, I think you should pick up this book.
  • (5/5)
    Thaniel Steepleton is a telegrapher at the home office, spending his working hours in a former broom closet, listening to the machines that have their wire tentacles all over Westminster. It’s a boring life. Then one night a bomb threat comes through, set for May. When he goes ‘home’- a Spartan room in a boarding house-he discovers his door open and a velvet box tied with ribbon and addressed to himself. In it is a fancy pocket watch of the finest work. Realizing it’s his birthday, he assumes his sister has been there and left it. When he sends a telegram to her in Scotland and she replies that of course she’s home and hasn’t been to London, the mystery begins. Six months after this, he’s in a pub when the watch starts sounding an alarm. He goes outside to try and shut off the noise- and narrowly escapes an explosion. Obviously whoever gave him the watch knew when the explosion was set to happen. Thaniel is set by his superior to find where the watch came from, and then shadow him. So he ends up renting a room from the Japanese watchmaker who admits he made the watch. Keita Mori, a lonely man from Japan, doesn’t just make watches. He does all sorts of clockwork- his pet is a clockwork octopus that is supposed to act randomly- but keeps ending up hiding in Thaniel’s dresser drawer, stealing his socks. Meanwhile, another narrative strand involves Grace Carrow, who is studying physics at Oxford, and has to dress as a man to gain entrance to the library. Her best friend is also from Japan, a dandy from a royal house. She has an inheritance, but her father won’t let her have it- until she marries. Which she doesn’t want to do. Even more strands appear. I have to admit I was totally confused at several points. There is a supernatural element, making it even harder to figure out. But it all comes out in the end. It’s a steampunk story, a Victorian mystery, and a love story. It was totally engrossing, with a wonderfully created atmosphere, and great details- clockwork fireflies? Yes, please! The characters could have been filled out better; for as much page time as Thaniel gets, we don’t know much about his interests are or even how he spent his spare time before the novel starts! Still, five stars.
  • (5/5)
    I continue to be amazed at the quality of debut novels. Pulley has created a captivating story that involves fantasy,Japanese and British history and independent women. This is a book I would recommend to people who want to escape in a book. A Japanese watchmaker can see into the future and he leaves his homeland to meet someone but he doesn’t know who. An exquisite, complicated watch he delivers secretly to this person, London a civil servant. When Thaniel comes looking for the watchmaker who created a watch that warns him of a bomb, Thaniel and they become friends. Add an independent woman scientist and this story set in the late 1880’s takes on another twist, for she, too, has a watch made by the Japanese watchmaker. She has a real problem; she can’t inherit her own home until she marries. Thaniel has a sister and two nephews he is supporting. If he marries her, she will use her wealth to send his nephews to a private school. This involved steampunk story has a surprisingly satisfying ending, giving the main characters what they most need. I am not a steampunk fan, but this book has me on the lookout for other Victorian steampunk stories.
  • (5/5)
    All right, all you Sherlock Holmes fangirls, listen up.What would you think of a version where “Sherlock” is a petite clairvoyant Japanese samurai/watchmaker with a Lincolnshire accent? And what if his “Watson” is a twenty-five year old Whitehall telegraph clerk who gave up his musical aspirations due to an acute case of synesthesia? And “Mary Watson” is an Oxford educated scientist with a butch haircut, a penchant for dressing in menswear and a Japanese dandy for a best friend? Think you might enjoy that?Let me answer that for you. Yes. Yes, you would. Okay okay, this isn’t really a Sherlock Holmes story. But it’s as good as. And I mean that respectfully and in every respect. I know from a little online investigative work that author Natasha Pulley is a Sherlock fan, and this novel, which is surely an homage to Arthur Conan Doyle’s number one son, definitely ranks among the best of them. I haven’t enjoyed a book this much in a while. The atmosphere of Victorian era London is lovingly recreated. The characters are completely enchanting and believable - by the end I was in love with them all. And in typical Conan Doyle fashion, the plot is labyrinthine and kind of outrageous (as is the resolution), but that’s all part of the fun. Plus, there’s a neat fantasy element that is completely unique and charming.Like the entire oeuvre of recent Sherlock Holmes re-tellings, the focus is not really on the plot, which basically functions as nothing more than a convoluted Maguffin to deliver the real story – which is the relationship between these two very different men. I think readers will be delighted by the evident chemistry between the peculiar, misanthropic Keita Mori and hapless, pragmatist Nathaniel Steepleton.I hesitate to say more, for fear of spoiling a story that was full of truly wonderful surprises. I loved this book. I hated that it ended because I wanted to spend more time with these people. So even though it’s unbelievably corny and I vowed I would never say this sort of thing, I’m kind of wishing for a sequel.I’m confident this book will be a huge hit. It has all the right stuff.
  • (3/5)
    The Watchmaker on Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley is a Victorian steampunk mystery novel. Nathaniel “Thaniel” Steepleton is a telegraph operator at Whitehall (government). He has held the position for the last four years. Thaniel prefers playing the piano, but it did not pay enough to support himself and his widowed sister, Annabel (who lives in Edinburgh with her two sons). The government have been receiving threats of bombs from Clan na Gael. Everyone is on alert and preparing for the worst.One night Thaniel arrives home to his room at the boarding house to find the door open, the dishes done and put away (not by the landlady). Thaniel then spies a gift box with his name on it. Inside is a beautiful pocket watch. It does not open and he cannot hear it working. Two months later it starts working and saves Thaniel. A loud noise comes from the watch making him go outside and saves him from a bomb. Thaniel goes looking for the creator of the watch.Grace Carrow is at the end of her fourth and final year at Oxford. She has a beautiful watch with filigree that looks like swallows flying. Grace inherited a house from her aunt, but she cannot have it unless she marries (it is being held in trust by her father). Grace loves science. She wants to do research and to teach. Her mother, Lady Carrow is determined Grace will marry and make a good match. Grace has money, a house, and needs a husband who will allow her experiments. Thaniel and Grace are destined to meet for good or for bad?Keita Moiri makes items out of clockworks. He made the watch for Thaniel and Grace. He has many beautiful items in his shop. There is also a clockwork octopus named Katsu. Katsu likes to live in a dresser drawer and steal socks. Keita has a special talent. Thaniel is not sure what to make of Keita when he first meets him. He thinks Keita might be behind the bombings (the maker of the bombs). Thaniel is tasked with keeping an eye on Keita and to get evidence. Keita has a room to rent and Thaniel moves in (Katsu really likes Thaniel’s dresser). Thaniel really gets to know Keita and finds out about his talent (and innocence). Thaniel now has to save Keita from the police (who are determined to pin the bombings on him) and find the real culprit.The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is a complicated novel. I have only given you a small snippet of what happens in the novel. It is an interesting book, but there are too many ideas shoved into one story (hard to keep track of all the characters and everything that is going on). There are also a lot of technical, scientific terms and explanations that will give you a headache. The book gets better towards the end (if you get that far) and the identity of the bomb maker is easily figured out. What Grace does, though, is definitely a shock and unexpected (sorry, spoiler)! I give The Watchmaker of Filigree Street 3.5 out of 5 stars. I received a complimentary copy of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The review and opinions expressed are my own.