"Ether is to light as air is to sound, but far more efficient. You will have noticed that when fireworks ignite, you hear that bang after the flash? That is because sound travels more slowly, much more slowly. So we can say that the medium of air conducts sound at a certain speed. As does ether. It conducts light at a speed of about two hundred thousand miles per second."
Never judge a book by its cover. That is unless it's The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. In which case the contents of the book, from prose to plot, are all woven into a tangible world as lush and rich with detail as the books elegant cover design, which was in fact, rather shamefully, the reason I picked it up in the first place.
The finery found in such cover design is typical of the Victorian era from where the story is set. For me personally, a long held fascination is realised. From the intrigues of the inner workings of the elaborate pocket watches, to the overly erected top hats men would wear, simply to let you know how very important they were. Even the attitudes of the people, although far less liberal, had a certain quality and standard. The upper lip was invented and the English furthered their efforts at being Europe's most prudish. Made up of hysterically frustrated women that were ruled over by ignorant, out of touch, but perfectly postured men, while everyone refers to oneself, as one. A secular distant time where the class system oppressed the poor and the aristocrats represented the height of decadent success. Bleak and ugly yet strangely beautiful, what an age it was!
I missed it by about 150 years. My only connections to that world were the weekly visits from the coal man or the warming deep bass tick that echoes, even today in my memory, from that woodworm riddled, dusty old grandfather clock positioned at the bottom of the stairs in my late grandmothers house. Nevertheless, it is through an author's imagination and clear hard study that we can enjoy the era without having to step back there in person. Safely, we can read from the comfort of our own armchairs, the terrors of Victorian Medical Science, workhouses and the strong held belief by many that in the absence of a will and last testament, the séance would be a perfectly viable alternative to conjuring up the last wishes of a dearly departed loved one.
Natasha Pulley, an Oxford Grad, ex book shop worker, come steam punk novelist's debut novel provides you with a 1st class ticket back to that world. There, all of its beauty and intrigue are available for you to observe. Done without worrying that your lungs be choked with soot or that you might end up caught in the aggressive protest of some grumpy Irish with a massive chip on his shoulder.
The story follows Thaniel Steepleton, an honest chap building his way in the world as a telegrapher for the Home Office. After receiving a bomb threat that very same night, sat resting upon his pillow is a package. Thaniel discovers inside a golden pocket watch, void of note and sealed.
A year later, the threat is realised and the bomb explodes at Scotland Yard. Had it not been for the bizarre and mysterious alarm that ebbed from his pocket watch, Thaniel would've surely of been killed in the attack.
Tracking down its maker, Thaniel is thrust into a world of eccentric clockwork mechanics from the genesis Keita Mori, a Japanese man of intrigue and with as much mystery as the clockwork to which he engineers.
The plot is fun and engaging. However, many of the pages are spent building Mori's elaborate skill sets and vast genesis. I felt as I read those pages that I was starting to lose interest in the story. I knew the guy was clever, I mean who among us can build a clockwork Octopus? Pulley's Victorian dash between London, Oxford, Japan and the lush world she has envisioned is spellbinding and certainly a large enough distraction to overlook the over zealous genesis character construction.
The subtle introduction of fellow genesis and cross dresser Grace Carrow, a young gifted girl, desperate to avert marriage in exchange for scientific notoriety, by proving the existence of the luminiferous ether (Yep, good luck with that!), makes for a wonderful intertwining story arch.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street belongs on the avid Victorian fiction lover's shelf and is available to purchase from Amazon and all good book shops.