This is a Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, by Natasha Pulley

June 24, 2015

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street tells the story of Nathaniel (Thaniel) Steepleton, a telegraphist who finds himself in a personal rut in nineteenth century England. Excitement arrives for him just in time in the form of an exquisite gold watch, mysteriously left on his pillow; the watch's alarm saves him from dying in an explosion at Scotland Yard. The watch leads Thaniel to Keita Mori, a Japanese clockmaker who is quiet about his past and even more so about his uncanny ability to predict the future. We also meet Grace Carrow, a scientist desperately trying to prove the existence of ether and have her chosen profession taken seriously. All three become immersed in trying to discover who bombed the Yard and whether another, more dangerous attack is coming.

Before I get in too deep, I just want you to know that this novel features a clockwork octopus. Not only that, but it's a cheeky clockwork octopus that's kept as a pet. This might be the most exciting part of Natasha Pulley's debut. I don't mean for that to sound disparaging, because there's a lot to love in this book. Pulley has a knack for setting the stage; the story jumps back and forth in both location and time, and she clearly did her research when she set out to depict both England and Tokyo in the 1800s.
"A huge cherry tree snowed petals in a wind that brushed them eddying over the flagstones. They were well past their best now, brown at the edges. Fresh, apple-cheeked servant girls went by with their hands clasped before them, eyes down even when a group of young men clattered by with bows and quivers." - Loc 831, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street
Thaniel is also a synesthete, allowing him to experience sound as color. He hears an orchestra as "shades of seaspray around the atlantic blue" (Loc 2619) and silence has "a silver hem" (Loc 149). This was a fun personality quirk to read about, being a word-taster myself. The romance arc is tender and unexpected and, overall, Watchmaker is one of the most original stories I've read this year.

However, this book is not without issues. I imagine this will be fixed in the final printing, but my digital ARC's formatting was way off. This was particularly jarring during dialogue-heavy sections; I couldn't always tell who was saying what, which made the plot hard to follow. I feel like I got to know Katsu (our lovable clockwork octopus) better than most of our protagonists. I didn't get a sense of depth, or even strong emotion, from any of them. You know how the love story was unexpected? While lovely, it also came out of left-field. I don't need these things spoon-fed to me, but with so little (and vague) build-up, it felt tacked-on.

All in all, I would recommend The Watchmaker of Filigree Street to anyone who loves a blend of historical and science fiction and has a strong sense of whimsy (aka loves clockwork octopuses). It's possible that I missed some of the nuance in the storytelling due to the poor formatting of my copy, and I absolutely think it's worth picking up the finished product to find out for yourself.

Obligatory disclaimer: I received The Watchmaker of Filigree Street from NetGalley for consideration of an honest review. Many thanks to Bloomsbury USA for offering me the chance to read it!

Have you read The Watchmaker of Filigree Street? What did you think?

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  1. This sounds kinda interesting so I just requested it from NetGalley. But I'll be honest and say that it was the cover that caught my attention. I'm such a sucker.
    I get what you mean about the formatting in the ARC's. There's a cookbook I have at the moment from NetGalley, and it's really hard to give a final assessment of it, when I don't *really* know what it will look like, and how it will read once it's a hardcopy, or completed digital copy. That's probably the biggest downside to digital ARC's (I have no opinion of printed ARCs as I've never read one!).

  2. Agreed on the cover—it's what originally sold me, too! So gorgeous. I think this book has so much potential, and I do continue to wonder if the wonky formatting made me rate lower than I should have. Ah well.

    Ooh, I can see it being even harder with a cookbook—how will you know the placement/quality of the photos and the overall layout of the book? I guess all you can do is try the recipes and see if they turn out.

  3. I'm going to have to keep an eye out for this in July. I don't think I want to risk requesting it - but I'm sold on the octopus!

  4. I think it was archived today on NetGalley anyway. And yes, Katsu the octopus was a winner! I hope you enjoy it. :)

  5. A clockwork octopus! This does sound like a fun read.

    I experienced poor format in one ARC I received a while back and I ended up not being able to finish the book, even though it was an author I normally enjoyed reading. Formatting can make a big difference!

  6. It was very fun, if not a bit frustrating at times with the formatting. I told Heather below that it's entirely possible some of the flaws I saw in the book would have gone away had I been able to parse out the dialogue properly!

    That's terrible that you couldn't even finish, especially since you already knew you liked the author! I feel like poorly-formatted ARCs end up putting the authors (especially new ones) at a serious disadvantage.

  7. Amanda @ The Zen LeafJuly 2, 2015 at 12:03 PM

    This sounds absolutely fascinating! I hope my library acquires a copy.

  8. Katsu is a fun little guy. I hope you enjoy it!

  9. Me too! I'm curious to see how everyone likes it in its final iteration. :)