The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

Written by Natasha Pulley
Review by Lorraine Norwood

Natasha Pulley’s debut is part steampunk (with the obligatory octopus featured as a clockwork character, and other steampunk elements such as gaslights), part Sherlock, and part alternate history, historical fantasy, and/or speculative fiction. Yes, more parts than usual in a whole, but that’s how this wry novel works.

Set in 1880s London, it features three main characters: Grace Carrow, Baron Keita Mori, and Thaniel Steepleton. Grace is a university student trying to prove the existence of ether, not the chemical compound we are familiar with today, but the “luminiferous aether” or light-bearing aether, thought to be the medium through which light traveled. Mori is a brilliant and mysterious figure, a watchmaker, who seems to be able to predict the future. Mori has made a watch for Grace, “whose filigree rearranges itself into a swallow when the lid is lifted.” Thaniel, around whom the others are entwined, is a telegrapher at the Home Office whose life is saved from an Irish nationalist bombing by a strange gold pocket watch, also made by Mori.

The plot revolves around the watchmaker and the hunt for the bomber. Is Mori dangerous? Could he be an accomplice to murder? What are the implications for the present when someone knows the future? In an interview for Alt Hist magazine, Pulley says the arcane plot came to her through a combination of Dr. Who and the London Illustrated News.

Clever and original, this novel will be of special interest to fans of steampunk and alternate history. Pulley says the book is part of a series featuring Gilbert and Sullivan, a clockwork octopus and some suffragists, “although possibly not all together.” Fans should happily await the next installment.