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The Watchmaker of Filigree Street Hardcover – July 14, 2015
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“Humor, wit, mystery and danger are threaded through the book in musical measure. It dances between genres and makes partners of several: one could call it steampunk for its Victoriana and etheric experimentation, science fiction for its musings on determinism, historical fantasy for the ways in which those elements are seamlessly blended with late 19th century London . . . A delightful, relentlessly charming and deeply moving book . . . Remarkable.” ―Los Angeles Times
"Assured and absorbing . . . immensely pleasurable reading. Pulley’s prose is strong and energetic, with a wry edge, and even the most minor characters are drawn precisely . . . The Watchmaker of Filigree Street might be compared to one of Mori’s clockwork birds: intricate, charming and altogether surprising." ―The New York Times Book Review
"Enchanting . . . Amid this thriller-like plot, Pulley raises thought-provoking questions about free will, fate and identity--making for a rich brew of historical fantasy, philosophy and emotion." ―Washington Post
“Winsome, atmospheric . . . transportive . . . [Mori causes] the reader to ponder fate vs. self-determination and duty vs. self-fulfillment in this diverting and original first novel.” ―Dallas Morning News
“Elegant plotting, lashings of invention and jump-off-the-page characterization . . . How their stories combine, and how Pulley juggles the complex plot and throws in multiple surprises, are but two of the many delights of a first novel that has been garnering a lot of attention. The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is a charming and quietly profound disquisition on predestination, chance and fate.” ―The Guardian
“Electrifying . . . a triumph of speculative fiction. It captures the frenetic energy of a world undergoing extraordinary changes . . . Pulley expertly employs the tools of mystery and fantasy to examine the social pressures faced by the marginalized . . . The heart of the story is the universal human quest for acceptance, understanding, and love.” ―starred review, Publishers Weekly
“A fresh and surprising philosophical adventure . . . This is more than just a well-paced, atmospheric mystery with elements of fantasy . . . Clever and engaging, this impressive first novel will reward both casual readers looking for a fun period adventure and those fascinated by the tension between free will and fate.” ―starred review, Kirkus
“Natasha Pulley's novel borrows from steam-punk in its fetishizing of unlikely Victorian technology. This polished debut has gothic overtones, too.” ―The Times
“Pulley's imaginative first novel transports readers to a Victorian London teeming with danger and magic . . . [She] mixes steampunk and intrigue with paranormal elements in this wholly original debut.” ―Booklist
“A unique blend of historical fiction and magical realism about the inextricable relationships between three people, a watch with magical powers and a clockwork octopus. This is ideal escapist holiday reading, your imagination will run riot.” ―Irish Tatler
“A remarkably assured first novel . . . Natasha Pulley turns this wild mix into a tale as elegant as one of the master watchmaker's creations, for a debut that's fast-paced, suspenseful, and curiously convincing.” ―LOCUS
“[A] masterful steampunk/mystery/historical fiction debut . . . A thrilling tale that sweeps readers into a dark and magical past . . . Pulley's novel grounds itself in historical accuracy and exquisite prose, and even genre-adverse readers will be hooked.” ―Bustle
“A clever detective story, a thrilling steampunk adventure and a poignant examination of the consequences of class warefare and English, Irish and Japanese nationalism in the 19th century.” ―Bookpage
“Part steampunk . . . part Sherlock, and part alternate history, historical fantasy, and/or speculative fiction . . . Clever and original.” ―Historical Novel Society
“Historical fiction, magic realism and elements of gothic fiction combine in this ambitious debut . . . This is accomplished writing from Natasha Pulley, whose imagination shines through in the myriad plot strains and the way they are brought together.” ―Irish Times
“Ten out of ten.” ―The Spectator
"A story as intricately plotted and as beautifully crafted as the most accurate timepiece." ―The Independent on Sunday
About the Author
Natasha Pulley studied English Literature at Oxford University and earned a creative writing MA at the University of East Anglia. Pulley lives near Ely in Cambridgeshire, England. This is her first novel.
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Because the events on Filigree Street are so mysterious and strange, and because we are not meant to experience time with its normal linearity, this elusiveness is absolutely necessary if Pulley is to succeed. The fact that she succeeds so well is a tribute to the choices she makes as the novel unfolds. If you are to enjoy The Watchmaker of Filigree Street to its fullest, allow Pulley's prose a certain leeway and freedom as it works on your imagination. Don't worry about arriving at the final destination, it's the journey that's most important. One of the characters in the novel is a student of physics at Oxford University evocatively named Grace. Scientifically inclined readers will recognize her on-going project as the famous Michelson–Morley experiment that was performed in the Spring and Summer of 1887 at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio comparing the speed of light in perpendicular directions. This epochal experiment's negative results are generally considered to be the first strong evidence against the then-prevalent luminiferous ether theory and led almost directly to Einstein's even more epochal Relativity Theory.
It is the famous ether in combination with a primitive form of quantum indeterminacy that Pulley uses as the mechanism for the strange watchmaker Mr. Keita Mori's ability to remember the future and then to control it. That magical ability is suggested by Pulley's nebulous use of time in the novel and it is that technique that gives The Watchmaker of Filigree Street much of its elusive beauty. There are several other themes that assert themselves: these include political terrorism, the first halting steps in the nascent feminist movement, class and racial differences during the apex of Britain's empire, the essential elusiveness of memory and personal identity, technology as an integral expression of creativity and the overarching theme of the ineffable nature of time. These are all weighty themes that are expressed in a remarkably lighter-than-air manner. As a first novel, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is quite an achievement. I strongly recommend it to readers eager to let go of the usual narrative signposts as they immerse themselves in this fascinating fantasy.
The story takes place in Japan and London and is set in the period after Admiral Perry opened Japan in 1853 and Ito Hirobumi became the first prime minister in 1868. The Japanese reference provides the time reference, but most of the story takes place in London.
I really do not want to give away a lot of the story details because one of the joys about reading this book is watching it unfold. I can say that I was supposed to work today and spent the entire day engrossed in the book. Very bad for productivity but no regrets; I have a smile on my face.
This is neither the most complex or weighty novel you can read. It is a long way from Tolstoy but if you have a day to kill you can spend it well with this book
The book is gently paced, written almost as in a minor key. Often, as much is said by what is not said— Pulley demands the reader’s involvement, and gets it. It is little wonder this novel received the attention it did, including the prestigious Betty Trask Award.
The final quarter of the book, however, doesn't fit the rest. (mild spoilers ahead) While you spend most of the story thinking the characters are embroiled in some nefarious international plot, the whole thing fizzles at the end and becomes a big nothing. One character makes a despicable choice that destroys property and nearly kills people, and no one says boo about it, not to mention it's a decision totally out of line with the character to that point. I'm really disappointed because I loved the set up so much and the ending just didn't carry it off.