My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Oh I absolutely loved this book! Set in the 1800s, at a time when rogue nationalists are just moving on from lobbing bombs through windows and onto setting bombs with clockwork and at a time when medieval London still hasn’t been destroyed by the Blitz, it tells the story of Thaniel, a telegraph operator in Whitehall and Mori, a Japanese watchmaker. Thaniel’s life is pretty boring when one day a beautiful watch is left in his room and someone does the washing up. Thaniel puzzles over who left the watch when one day it comes to life and saves him from a terrorist’s bomb. Thaniel follows a clue to Filigree Street where he meets Mori in a little medieval house and ends up living there.
I was in complete literary love with Mori, who is definitely up there with another older gentleman character I love, Hobie from The Goldfinch, although Mori is more complex with a definite possibility of being a bit of an anti-hero. Like Hobie, Mori lives in a beautiful house, is creative with his hands (Hobie restores antique furniture, Mori creates almost magical clockwork creatures), he knows his way round a kitchen, with a plate of freshly baked scones and some green tea and he takes in waifs and strays. (As a side note I also love another minor male character, a bluff home office official who does embroidery to calm down).
As well as covering the changes in bomb technology, the book also covers the struggle for suffrage, synesthesia,the development of the tube, changing attitudes in Japan, scientific opinions at the time, Gilbert and Sullivan, probability and what sounds like the rather lovely Japanese show village in Hyde Park. I’m missing so much out of this review because one of the joys of this book is the discovery at the plot unfolds but read it, I’d recommend to everyone, it’s beautifully written, with some wonderful dialogue, it describes some potentially tricky concepts really well and it is just totally immersive, I felt like I was in that little house in Filigree Street too. I could easily see this book being adapted for TV, a graphic novelisation would be good too.