The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
At the novel’s center is Keita Mori, the watchmaker of the title. Mori is a small Japanese man with dyed-blonde hair and an aristocratic bearing. A baron and the former aid to Japan’s Minister of the Interior, Mori has more than a little mystery in his past. In the present, he makes watches with jewelled inner-workings and superior craftsmanship, as well as other clockwork of a more fantastical nature. Something of a clairvoyant, Mori seems to attract other characters to him whose lives then become intermeshed.
Grace Carrow is a Lord’s daughter, but a rebel with a distinct passion for all that is distinctly unfashionable for a Lady in Victorian London. Her guiding principle is “When a sign says don’t walk on the grass, one hops.” She eschews female frippery, proper manners and the classical course of study that is expected of her. She is, ironically, ungraceful when it comes to human interaction, preferring instead the company of her laboratory where, a student of physics at Oxford, she is laboring to prove the existence of the luminiferous ether, an invisible substance thought to be the explanation for the wave-like properties of light.
Akira Matsumoto is the rich and elegant son of a Japanese nobleman and Grace’s only friend at Oxford, where he is translating the Hyakunin Isshu into English. Social matters are Akira’s primary concern, however, as he is “not so much a student as a very very rich tourist.” Akira supports Grace in her studies, lending her his clothes so that she, an unaccompanied female, can surreptitiously gain access to the Oxford’s Bodleian Library, but on the arts/science divide his position is clear: “Your science can save a man’s life, but imagination makes it worth living.”
So it does. Mori’s clockwork creations and certain supernatural elements of his character (which I will allow you to discover for yourself) add a magical element to this novel’s otherwise historically-accurate setting, with Irish Republican bombings by Clan na Gael and the presence of a Japanese show village in London’s Hyde Park. There is a mystery at the heart of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, but Pulley’s characters quickly take center stage, and the mystery becomes something of an afterthought. Elements of romance and adventure are there as well, in this genre-defying debut that will beguile you to its end.