Set mostly in 1880s London, Pulley’s debut novel twists typical steampunk elements—telegraphs, gaslight, clockwork automata—into a fresh and surprising philosophical adventure.
Nathaniel Steepleton is a telegraph clerk at the Home Office in London. Grace Carrow is studying physics at one of Oxford’s new women’s colleges. Her friend Akira Matsumoto is the emperor of Japan’s second cousin. What connects them, although they don’t yet know it, is the eponymous watchmaker, one Baron Mori, a brilliant and mysterious figure who appears able to predict the future. Mori made Grace’s watch, whose filigree rearranges itself into a swallow when the lid is lifted: “Clever tracks of clockwork let it fly and swoop along the inside of the lid, silver wings clinking.” He also made the pocket watch whose ear-piercing alarm startles Thaniel out of the path of a terrorist time bomb. But did Mori make the bomb’s clockwork control as well? As the characters’ stories mesh and spin, they rearrange themselves like that filigree into intricate and surprising patterns. But this is more than just a well-paced, atmospheric mystery with elements of fantasy. Pulley is concerned with deeper questions of fate, chance, and trust. How dangerous is a man who knows in advance the likelihood of every possible event? When does probability crystallize into inevitability, and how could the future affect the present? The story thwarts expectations; whenever an outcome looks as predetermined as clockwork, it might well go another way.
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.