The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, by Natasha Pulley. Read June 2018.
This book reads like the fantasy equivalent of a hard SF novel: the story is primarily concerned with exploring an interesting idea, and the characters are just pegs to hang those ideas off. It’s an interesting concept, but the plot and, especially, the characters left much to be desired.
It started off well enough with an interesting premise (a terrorist bombing on Scotland Yard). The two POV characters were a bit bland and their POV voices read practically identical, but I was willing to go with it at first as the ideas in the story were interesting.
I did have a lot of trouble with the narrative style. It just seemed vague in the hazy, obscured kind of way. Now, I could detect a certain subtlety to it, like it was looking at characters, scenes, and the implications of scenes through sidelong gazes… but this didn’t work for me. It might be subtle to another reader, but I perceived it vague and bland. It was very much like looking through a hazy windows at happenings on the other side. The haziness didn’t tantalize, it just obscured things.
Unfortunately the novel didn’t get better. The story took an unexpected turn at around the 2/3rds mark: the romantic twist. Now, I generally take a dim view of romance in stories, and thus am quite critical about them. I completely did not buy this one. I think it wasn’t set up to my satisfaction – there were feints of some romantic flavour in the earlier scenes, but the payoff was jarring, like gunning from zero to 100% in a single scene. What’s more, I felt let down by the follow-through: the characters got away with it without any emotional fallout or consequences whatsoever in subsequent scenes. –Actually, there were consequences, but entirely of the plot-device sort. The consequences in character development seemed… non-existent.
As a result, I was thrown completely out of my suspension of disbelief, and lost respect for the story. I struggled to finish the rest of the novel because I couldn’t accept how the romantic twist changed and didn’t change the plot. Sad to say, I finished the novel with the taste of disappointment in my mouth. (And the plot about the terrorist bombing somehow slid out of focus and ended in a whimper, and the novel ultimately focused on the romance and relationships. Not quite what I was led to expect at the start of the novel.)
It’s probably just me. Overall, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is not a bad story. The ideas the story was exploring – namely how predicting the future impacts on causality and human nature – was quite interesting, in spite of the pedestrian characterization. And I’m quite sure that some of the subtlety in the narrative was completely lost on me, and it’s just the way I read books. But I didn’t think it was a good story either.