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[personal profile] alobear
I went to an author event recently at the Bloomsbury Institute, where Natasha Pulley did a Q&A. I liked her a lot, and I remembered seeing the posters for her award-winning first novel, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, when it came out. So, I decided to give it a try. I went with the audiobook version, and was glad I did because the narrator had a lovely voice and presented the different characters with enough distinction to make them memorable, but not so much as to make them caricatures.

I quite enjoyed the book overall. I liked the two main male characters, Thaniel Steepleton and Kaita Mori, a great deal and found spending time with them very pleasant. That feels like faint praise, since 'pleasant' is the best word I can find to describe this book, but I don't mind a gentle approach to storytelling on occasion.

What confused me were the accolades the book has garnered, since it did have several faults, and certainly didn't conform to the so-called 'rules' of good novel-writing, or stand out to me as worthy of particular praise.

My main criticisms would be that the only main female character, Grace Carrow, wasn't very likeable and in fact was pretty awful to Thaniel throughout, making her distinctly unsympathetic. The plot felt quite fractured (which didn't surprise me, as Pulley admitted it was originally built from three short stories), and there were multiple occasions in every chapter where the narrative used 'he' and I didn't know who it was referring to.

In terms of breaking the rules, the whole of the first few pages was about a low-level civil servant making a cup of tea (which I loved, but didn't exactly start with a bang), and the protagonist had almost no agency at all (which was kind of the point and also didn't bother me). There was very little conflict (though the tug-of-war between Mori and Grace over Thaniel was quietly engaging) and the mystery of the bombmaker was almost incidental and impossible for the reader to solve.

I've read reviews that describe the book as 'elegant', which is a good word for it. It's quite an unassuming book, but with lots of rich setting detail, and I did feel invested in the characters.

So, I'm a bit conflicted about this one - from an enjoyment point of view, it definitely falls on the positive side, but I'm finding it very difficult not to be analytical in my reading at the moment, and there was a lot about this one that brought me out of the listening experience to think about the writing.

September 2017

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