I just finished reading an interesting book the other day — interesting in premise, anyway. I didn’t dislike it, but I felt confused throughout the story. I didn’t even know if I was going to bother writing a post about it, as I don’t have too much to talk about. But what the heck. Let’s try.
I guess you could call The Watchmaker of Filigree Street historical fantasy. It takes place in London during the late 1800s and the book definitely feels like it does a good job describing that setting. The main character, Thaniel, is a telegraphist, horse and buggies carry passengers through the streets, people light lamps, etc. There was only one historical reference I felt I needed to look up, and that was the Clan na Gael. They’re an Irish organization that more or less acts as a looming terrorist threat for the book, although after reading the whole thing I think most people could put that together for themselves. History buffs may appreciate the historical references more than I could, but as a whole there isn’t too much in here you need previous knowledge of to enjoy the story.
So Thaniel is an everyman that gets up, goes to work, and comes home every day. He doesn’t have any friends, and the only family he has is his sister and her children. One day he finds a pocket watch left in his home, and some time later it goes off just before a bomb set by the Clan na Gael goes off.
Thaniel tracks down the maker of the watch, a Japanese immigrant named Mori. He’s a very talented clockwork artist, and his home is filled with things that run off clockwork including a pet octopus). Thaniel questions him about the watch and why it went off when it did, and eventually discovers that Mori has limited foresight and is something of a clairvoyant. He’s very nice to Thaniel and the two get along, so Thaniel decides to take Mori’s offer of renting a room and moves in.
The police, after believing that Thaniel wasn’t connected to the Clan na Gael bombing, want him to spy on Mori to see if he can uncover anything that may relate Mori and the bombing. Thaniel keeps insisting Mori isn’t involved, but the police are desperate to place the blame on him since the clockwork in the bomb was Mori’s handiwork.
Meanwhile, a woman named Grace is finishing up her studies at Oxford. There’s a lot of science descriptions with her introductory chapters that I admittedly don’t understand, but I guess the basic gist is that she’s studying ether and how it can be used to prove that clairvoyance is real. I’m sure you can see where this is going.
She and Thaniel eventually meet and end up agreeing to a mutually beneficial marriage so she can inherit a house with a basement she can use as a lab and he can have a new place to live. However, Mori doesn’t seem to like Grace, despite her attempts to befriend him. Eventually Grace becomes suspicious of Mori and believes he’s using Thaniel for something. She believes he’s trying to separate the two of them, and Thaniel continues to insist that Mori isn’t. Eventually the story revolves around Thaniel trying to prove that Mori is a good person with an unusual ability to see into the future, while the rest of the cast (and some people that knew Mori beforehand) insist otherwise.
The book definitely has an interesting premise, however the pacing made the entire experience feel extremely underwhelming. It built up very slowly, and honestly, I’m not even sure what it was building up to. I heard the book had a slow start and eventually got more exciting, but I couldn’t tell you when the turning point was. Despite my attempt at summarizing the book, I still don’t fully believe I could give a short description of what it was about. It was just about Thaniel and Mori, really, and their building relationship.
And that would be okay except the characters didn’t feel particularly strong. I don’t want to say they were bland, but they could have stood out more. There was plenty of dialogue, but unfortunately a lot of descriptions and narration took priority over character development (and plot advancement, unfortunately). Part of me feels like the author was trying to make the characters and their relationships subtle, which is fine, but I think they could have been written better.
At the end of the day, I don’t really know what to think of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. The cover is amazing. I’ll definitely say that. But unfortunately, I think it gave me the impression the book was going to be more like an adventure or something bigger than it actually was. Many reviews I’ve read say it’s like a steampunk Sherlock Holmes, but since the closest thing to Sherlock Holmes I’m familiar with is The Great Mouse Detective, I’m not really qualified to confirm that. 🙂 Many readers that are fans of him seem to really enjoy this book, while other readers shared similar opinions to me. It seems to be a love or hate novel. I still think there’s potential here, and I heard the author is going to write two more books based off these characters. I’m intrigued enough to look at her next book when it comes out, but I hope it’s cleaned up a little better than this one.
Anyway, give it a read if you’re interested. Just tread cautiously. Maybe borrow it or read a couple of chapters first before spending $25 on a hardcover copy.
Thanks for reading and I hope you’re having a great week! 🙂
Info for my edition of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street:
- Published 2015 Bloomsbury USA
- Hardcover, 318 pages
- ISBN 978-1-62040-833-9