Friday, 23 September 2016

Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

Another gorgeous cover, though.
You know when you want to love a book? You know when you look at it and go, "Well, this is clearly Angelmaker level stuff and I'm going to fall blissfully in to it, and everything will be great?"

Never ends well, does it?

Look. I didn't hate this book. I had to read it twice to make sure of that.

Parts of it are bits from a really, really good book. Thaniel is adorbs and Matsumoto might be a type, but he's a very fine and engaging example of that type. The initial plot is tightly set up and interesting and there are people whose emotions and struggles I care about. It's just that, every time it looked like it was about to soar off in to wonderous places, every time I'd feel myself softening and leaning forward and about to fall in love, it would just... stop.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is not a bad novel, but it is a self-conscious one. It covers up its sentimentalism with quite unnecessary brutality, but cannot quite commit to that. It's a steampunk novel that absolutely detests the idea of being a steampunk novel. This is a book that involves a clockwork octopus, clairvoyance, and a rebellious Lady Scientist exploring quantum-mumble-something-I'm-not-a-scientist, but with a writer very keen to impress upon us that everyone hates steam trains, the Lady Scientist is not a Suffragist and that we are totally not getting our airships here.

Honestly, I can live without the air-ships. It's the writer I'm worried about.

To make the inevitable comparison to Harkaway, I would have to admit that Pulley is probably the better writer - but Harkaway writes the better novel. He is gloriously, gleefully trashy, and applies his considerable intelligence and talent to that without reservation. Weighed down by a need to be better, Pulley's prose is glistening, but her plot is stilted, doubting. There is something resigned and perfunctory about it, as though she second guessed herself at every turn. She gets bogged down in the bruising details and dismisses the rather more interesting problems with a throwaway ending.

It almost feels as though Pulley wanted to pass this off as magical realism because her critique group felt that a rattlingly good spy story about forbidden love, magical clockwork and precognition wasn't Literary enough, and the novel that we hold is the tragic result of their interference. Or perhaps I'm just projecting. We went to the same university - sometimes its hard to tell.

Also, I did not like Keita Mori. I know that like-ability is not key to good character structure, but Mori crossed a line for me. I got the feeling he was supposed to be more sympathetic that he ever seemed to me. What's more, to make him appear more pleasant, it felt as though Grace was defamed unjustly - something which made her seem a little two dimensional and really beyond the pale. All of this made the ending deeply uncomfortable. This felt to me less like another attempt Literariness than an unfortunate consequence of the novel's earlier flaws.

Will I come back to this book? Yes - very probably. It bothers me, and books that bother me tend to get me to reread them more those I enjoyed without reserve. And I'll probably look out Pulley's next novel, although not with any urgency. I want to see how her writing develops.

But would I reccomend that you read it?

Let me think on that one.

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