This is perfect kind of steampunk. It merely blurs the lines ever so slightly between fantasy and reality. Rather than imagining strange new worlds full of variant species or particle space travel, this book is set firmly in 1880s London. It is foggy, sooty and on the cusp of a new century. The industrial revolution has unleashed new technology — some of it stream-driven — but the enemies are old. Irish revolutionaries are plotting to bring down the British government in the push for independence.
Thaniel Steepleton, young and nondescript, works as a telegrapher/transcriptionist for the Home Office at Scotland Yard and finds a lovely but mysterious pocketwatch in his plain flat. Unable to find the rightful owner, he keeps it on him. The thing springs open, makes a noise and he is diverted from an explosion that destroys Scotland Yard.
Thaniel’s boss, Superintendent Williamson (a real person from Scotland Yard), asks to see the timepiece and they discover its maker is one Mori. He is considered the best clockmaker in the world and Williamson is suspicious that he may have made the gears for the latest bomb. Thaniel moves in with Mori, the kind but unsettling Japanese man. His assignment is to spy but Thaniel uncovers something much more interesting than bomb parts. The clockwork automaton octopus isn’t even the strangest thing.
Added to the mix is a brilliant, headstrong woman who is a sort of theoretical physicist. She brings a level of spunkiness to contrast Thaniel’s naiveté.
Listen to an excerpt from audible.com
Because Pulley uses real events, real names and real places, the reader is able to consider the possibility of this alternate world. It’s a London that is only just barely off the known track that it is easy to believe that maybe all this did happen and we are only just now finding out about it.
The story-telling is vivid and spry, like a well-wound clock gear. It chimes in at just the right moments with background or setting.
There was, near the edge of the lawn, an enormous, ancient pear tree. Mori veered to it and dropped his handful of seeds among the long grass that had already grown around the trunk. He did the same thing whenever they can, and by now he had cultivated a lush patch of the stuff. He had a pathology of un-neatening overly neat things that matched his aversion to new houses and ironing his shirts. It was no accident he had chosen the one spot the gardeners absolutely could not mow without resorting to a pair of nail scissors. ~Pg. 218
The book is so enjoyable I wish I could read it again. This is Pulley’s first novel — I am looking forward to her future work.
Thanks to Bloomsbury for the review copy.
Imprint: Bloomsbury USA
Dimensions: 6 1/8″ x 9 1/4″
List price: $26.00