The Watchmaker of Filigree Street Author: Natasha Pulley Publisher: Bloomsbury USA, July 14, 2015 Format: Hardcover and eBook, 336 pages List Price: $26.00 (print) ISBN: 9781620408339 (print) Review Copy: Provided by the Publisher via NetGalley
1883. Thaniel Steepleton returns home to his tiny London apartment to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the mysterious timepiece saves his life, drawing him away from a blast that destroys Scotland Yard. At last, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori, a kind, lonely immigrant from Japan. Although Mori seems harmless, a chain of unexplainable events soon suggests he must be hiding something. When Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist, unwittingly interferes, Thaniel is torn between opposing loyalties.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is a sweeping, atmospheric narrative that takes the reader on an unexpected journey through Victorian London, Japan as its civil war crumbles long-standing traditions, and beyond. Blending historical events with dazzling flights of fancy, it opens doors to a strange and magical past.
Thaniel Steepleton's life irrevocably changes when stranger leaves a gold pocket watch on his bed. Up to this point he has had a fairly lonely life as a telegrapher for the Ministry of Defence, lives a small bedsit, and sends half his meager wages to his widowed sister. His biggest challenge was trying to decide when to have his tea break. When the watch saves him from becoming yet another victim of the bombing of Scotland Yard, Thaniel is determined to find out who made it and how he ended up with it. His investigation takes him to none other than the watchmaker of Filigree Street - Keita Mori. Nathaniel's life soon becomes entangled with the unassuming watchmaker. The story moves from present to the past as we learn about Mori's past in Japan and the circumstances of his arrival in England. We also meet Grace who has returned home after studying physics at university. Grace wants to continue her experiments but is being pressured by her parents to get married first. When Thaniel meets Grace at a ball he couldn't possibly anticipate the chain of events that would ensue.
Pulley sets her debut novel in a grey and bleak London during a time when the Fenian's (or Irish Republican Brotherhood) were setting off bombs in key cities, mainly London. It is also a time when both foreigners and women were openly discriminated against. Setting her story during real events helps to create a feeling of legitimacy to the story and to the characters. I found the whole novel very atmospheric and felt that Pulley picked an excellent time period in which to set her story. I was however let down by the lack of characterisation. Neither Thaniel nor Grace stood out and, in fact, I found Grace extremely self-centered. She acts appallingly towards the end of the novel and no one seems to bat an eyelash. This seemed incongruous with the rest of the story and focus on finding the person who bombs Scotland Yard. Of all the characters Mori was the most developed and was by far the most interesting. I think this is down to the chapters dedicated to his history back in Japan.
My final bug bear with this novel and which made the whole novel a bit of a struggle for me is the typeface. I realise that the choice of typeface can be outside of the hands of the author but I struggle to understand why anyone would chose to use a typeface that used random capitalisation. A first I thought it was bad editing as I had an eARC but I flipped to the back and read the author's notes which explained the typeface. Very odd choice.
I had high hopes for the The Watchmaker of Filigree Street as I have read some other excellent debuts in the last few months, but overall I was disappointed. The characters lack the depth they require in order to pull off the convoluted plot.