My friend Zac is an avid fan of the author Nick Harkaway and has insisted I try reading his work. I couldn’t get into Gone-Away World, but his newest, Angelmaker seemed much more my style, so I decided I would fight my way through it if I had to. As it turns out, while I struggled a bit with the first 100 pages or so, after that I was totally sucked in. Before I get to why, here’s a little about what Angelmaker is.
Harkaway has put together a novel that is 1 part detective noir, 1 part steam punk, 1 part classic Victorian fantasy, and 1 part spy novel. They don’t always necessarily appear in conjunction with each other (ie, we have steam punk and spy thriller flashbacks, a Victorian structure, and a noir hero) but somehow they come together to form a tasty whole. Think of it like Mole Chicken. Who would have though chocolate and chicken would go together, but it turns out it’s a damn fine dish.
In Angelmaker, Joe (Joshua Joseph Spork, Crazy Joe, Josh the Clock, etc) has taken up his grandfather’s trade of clock-making and clockwork repair while trying to forget that his father was a notorious gangster king of London. He is approached for a job that ends up getting him in trouble with the government and a very bizarre sect of monks which forces him to turn to his father’s community of cut-purses and thugs for help.
Now, here’s where I had some trouble with the novel. For the first I don’t know how many pages, Joe has absolutely no agency. Things happen to him and around him and he runs away from them and steadfastly refuses to take any direct action. It drove me nuts. Then we started to get Edie’s back story and I was enthralled because Harkaway’s powerful and compelling storytelling abilities finally had a focus that wasn’t a pansy. And then Joe get quite ballsy and I loved it. I just wish Harkaway had let Joe take some action for himself much earlier on. I mean, the only thing he does to better his life during the first third of the book is play a prank on a nasty cat. But, once all of the characters are up, moving, and kicking ass, it becomes a fantastic action/adventure.
When I say it’s in the style of a Victorian fantasy, I’m referring to long foreshadowing titles and (unfortunately) a character who begins with no agency and just waits to see where events take them, while simultaneously freaking out just a bit. This worked well with Harkaway’s somewhat sardonic tone of voice and there were several times I laughed out loud at his character’s lines (this was somewhat awkward on the subway). His descriptions were detailed and complex, his characters were well defined and lively, and the story-line itself is enthralling. So, once you get past the slow opening, you are in for one heck of a trip.