After reading a wonderfully critical review on Lucinda’s blog, I decided I would never read this book. Even though there’s a clockwork octopus in it. Well, I found the book for £1 in a charity shop, so I thought I’d give it a go anyway. I discovered that I share Lucinda’s opinion of it. I actually enjoyed the first few chapters because the story, setting and characters were intriguing. An alternative Victorian London threatened by clockwork bombs? A strange watch left in a telegraphist’s flat? A female physics student in Oxford? A Japanese watchmaker whose creations are like magic? I was very interested. Unfortunately, the further I read, the less impressed I was. I had several issues with this book.
Firstly, the plot. It was like a drawer of odd socks. The beginning was promising and suggestive of a thriller. Nothing that happened afterwards matched this. I was waiting for things to happen. It was disappointing. And the pace was very slow most of the time. You’d think that a book with a clockwork bomb theme might have tension and a good pace to it, but no. My attention kept wandering. I do think there were some well-observed descriptions and that it’s an ambitious book for a debut, but I’m struggling to think of anything more positive to say. The characters weren’t well-differentiated – at least three of them tended to say ‘Christ’ as an exclamation – and didn’t develop at all. I wasn’t keen on the way that Japanese people were described, although I suppose the language would match general opinions held by society at the time and we are discussing an historical novel here. A lot of attention was paid to the differences in appearance between Japanese and white people.
Some of the sentences were rather clunky and there were some cringeworthy descriptive words. Sometimes characters make assumptions but it’s not clear why they’re thinking that way. I also encountered many instances where it wasn’t clear which of two or more male characters were being referred to by ‘he’. Another odd thing is that Thaniel, one of the main characters, is hinted as having synaesthesia because he hears sounds as colours, but it’s too little explored to be worth mentioning. Furthermore, the composers Gilbert and Sullivan appear later on but to me this seems a distraction from the main premise of the story. I don’t think this book knows what it wants to be.
First published in 2015.