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Review: Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

by Nick Harkaway

Nick Harkaway’s previous novel, The Gone Away World was reviewed here back in October of 2008.

His father was a legend of the London underworld, an infamous criminal called “Tommy Gun” Spork. But Joe Spork is a quiet, average sort of guy. Instead of following in his father’s footsteps, Joe specializes in clockwork repair, with a special interest in Victorian era automata. One of his clients, a sweet but rather dotty old lady, gives him a particularly unusual clockwork device, which sets off a doomsday device from the 1950s. It doesn’t matter that Joe didn’t mean to trigger the end of the world. The British government wants him locked up now for terrorism. His client, it turns out, is a retired secret agent who has spent years preventing a South Asian dictator from getting his hands on the doomsday machine and destroying the world. But now that the clock is ticking and Joe’s life has been turned upside down, it’s up to him to somehow save the world.

This densely-packed novel hits the ground running during the first couple of chapters, and never really lets up. It is exciting and energetic, full of vim and vigor – a thriller of the first rate. Not a thriller in the James Patterson/Dan Brown style, of course. It is as if the worlds created by Neil Gaiman slam-crashed into the absurdity of Christopher Moore and fused into a mutant behemoth of a novel. (At over 550 pages, it’s a hefty tome.) There are killer clockwork bees, secret agents, crazy killer monks, sexy femme fatales, and, of course, Armageddon just around the corner.

When I first began the book, I thought it was some sort of dystopian future or alternate universe in which the world had morphed into a Neo-Victorian dream of steam-powered clockwork. Nope. It’s our world, and the initially steampunk elements stem more from Joe’s specific line of work than London around him. But there’s an appreciation for the handmade and the beautiful in a maker’s craft that I think is integral to the whole steampunk movement, so it still seems very much a steampunk novel. (How many times can I say ‘steampunk’ in a paragraph?)

In the book, there’s an order of monks called the Ruskinites, who seek evidence of the divine in the details of human labor. They’re artisans, but over the decades they eventually evolve into something far more sinister when a charismatic but dangerous man becomes the leader of the order. I thought this was a cool sort of religious order – useful and meditative – but their path shows how dangerous such an organization can be when it falls into the wrong hands.

This is a book with complicated characters and intricate connections built up over generations. It’s difficult to classify into a genre, so I won’t even try. It was a fantastic book, though. I wish I could read it for the first time again.

5 out of 5 stars

To read more about Angelmaker, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
The Black Stiletto by Raymond Benson
2010: The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory
2009: Discussion Question: Back to school, back to textbook spending…
2008: The Last Queen by C. W. Gortner


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