The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, by Natasha Pulley

When Thaniel, a Victorian telegraphist for the Home Office, finds a mysterious watch in his apartment, he becomes a little nervous. When the watch’s alarm sounds moments before a bomb explodes – saving his life when he goes outside to silence it – he realises that not only was he right to be nervous, but now he might be in deep trouble.

In his attempts to find out where the watch came from, and why the alarm sounded moments before the bomb exploded, he meets Mori, a Japanese watchmaker. Mori is an extraordinary man: not only is he so gifted with clockwork that he has created an entirely lifelike clockwork octopus, but he is also strangely good at knowing exactly what Thaniel is about to say…

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

This was an excellent read (or should I say “listen”, as again I have been lazy and listened to it on Audible while doing the washing up). It combines an interesting blend of history and science fiction, without sacrificing one for the other. In addition, the “science” in it, which is based on a real, although now disproven, theory, is something that I’ve not seen explored in this way before. Sadly, the novel does not always stick solidly to its own scientific rules, but this is only in a couple of small remarks which can easily be ignored. The rest of the time, it’s an incredibly interesting idea.

The friendship between Thaniel or Mori (or is it friendship?) is absolutely wonderful, as well. Pulley places a lot of emphasis on the little things which allow the two to show affection for each other, such as their drinking tea together or checking that the other is all right. The writer of this review makes an excellent point when he says that male friendship is rare in literature; I’m not sure I have read such an excellent male relationship since Lord of the Rings.

feb19_frodo_and_sam_leaving_shire

It’s like this, but if Sam didn’t work for Frodo.

The book does take a little while to get into. Thaniel’s character, before he meets Mori, is quite dull, while Grace, the main female character, is completely obnoxious. I spent the first few chapters worrying that I would have to spend all my time with these people, but rest assured that they become a great deal better and more interesting once the plot kicks in.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street comes highly recommended. It is interesting in both a philosophical and a historical sense. Also, it has made me really, really want a clockwork octopus.

Blue-Ringed-Octopus-Pictures

Preferably a cute one.

Dodger, by Terry Pratchett – a review

I don’t think I have ever mentioned my love of all things Terry Pratchett on this blog before. The reason, I think, is because I read far too many of his books, and if I started doing reviews of all the Discworld books that is all this blog would contain (and I mostly feel the same way about all of them, so that would get boring really quickly). Dodger, however, is not a Discworld book, and thus I can feel pretty secure in reviewing it without then having  review a thousand others.

Dodger is a young adult novel set in Dickensian London, in the first quarter of Victoria’s reign. Dodger, our hero, is a tosher – someone who roots about in the sewers, searching for lost coins and jewellery. He emphatically does not have a heart of gold, but he doesn’t like to see people getting bullied, and after he saves a young woman’s life he becomes known as a hero.

I loved reading this book, in part because it is one of those lovely historical fantasies where everyone who is interesting in an era will be there (even some people who may not have existed). Dodger quickly meets, for example, Charles Dickens and Henry Mayhew – whose work documenting the lives of the Victorian poor seems to have inspired this book – Sweeney Todd and Sir Robert Peel, among others. It might not be historically accurate, but it’s an excellent taster of the era.

Where Terry Pratchett always shines is in showing a social situation and pointing out the flaws in a traditional narrative. In this story, for example, instead of the villainous Fagin we are presented with Dodger’s mentor Solomon Cohen, a Jewish man who has been forced to travel the world as he was pushed out of country after country, and who has learned to live as quietly as possible . At the same time, Charlie (Charles Dickens) is not shown as a fool, or as a person with an agenda – but he explains to Dodger that the public want angelic street boys and ‘orrible murders, and that’s what he will have to give them.

This was, in all, an interesting read, a good introduction to the early Victorian era in London, and definitely a good book for any young person (or older person) you would like to grow into a Terry Pratchett fan.