Nick Harkaway's first book, "The Gone-Away World", was a blockbuster tour-de-force that defied categorisation and displayed a unique combination of a versatile, far-ranging imagination, with a highly developed sense of storytelling which made the incredible seem more than plausible and the impossible almost mundane. His second book, "Angelmaker", feels to been quite a long time in coming. Happily, it has been well worth the wait and the author's fans will be relieved to know that it is every bit as wild and wacky (and yet just as utterly believable) as the earlier work.
In a change from the futuristic setting of "Gone Away World", "Angelmaker" is a contemporary tale of terrorism, counter-terrorism, fanaticism, organised crime, state-sponsored paranoia and plain, honest horology, tempered with family issues, romance, religious fervour, psychotic mass murderers, more fanaticism, honour, love and the triumph of good over evil (eventually). It features the most amazing contribution to Britain's secret service ever to appear in literature anywhere (Nick Harkaway's parentage notwithstanding). Oh yes, and of course, an elderly and bad-tempered (mostly) toothless pug (which gives new meaning to the word "pugnacious") and a tremendous quantity of clockwork golden bees, out to alter the human race's receptivity to truth.
In short, "Angelmaker" is yet another blockbusting tour-de-force, guaranteed to blow the mind and captivate the reader through every single one of its 570-odd pages and still leave you begging for more! The writing is, if anything, even better than in "Gone Away World", the characters even more loveable and laudable, and the plot even more convoluted and bizarre. (Although, be warned, it is also more brutal and savage, especially in its portrayal of scenes of torture and human abuses which, while sickening, add to the poignancy and power of the protagonist's eventual realisation and acceptance of his inheritance. So don't let it put you off!)
This is definitely my book of the year so far and I cannot believe there will be anything along to rival it for a very long time -- probably not, in fact, until Nick Harkaway writes his next book!
on 31 January 2012
Joshua Joseph Spork is a name that will be with me for a long time, if not the rest of my life. He is an antique dealer, expert repairer of things clockwork, son of a submachine toting crook, and the main character in Nick Harkaway's spy adventure novel, "Angelmaker".
When I reviewed Nick's previous novel, "The Gone-Away World", I described it as "a fast paced tale that covers a lot of ground and doesn't let you rest for a minute". Well, he's done it again. The same pace; subtle, and not so subtle humour; intricate plot, and breadth of scope are all present. "The Gone-Away World" convinced me I should read anything Nick writes. "Angelmaker" reinforced this conviction.
Without being specific I can tell you that Joe Spork, like any central character in a spy novel, finds himself in a troublesome situation with different elements of his life falling asunder. For someone who just wants a quiet life this is rather troubling. In addition, he is surrounded by characters who may be on his side, or possibly the other. For that matter, he doesn't know what or who the other side is.
We also meet Edie Banister and her pet dog. Don't be fooled by Edie Banister's outward appearance. She may be a little old lady in her eighties, but in her heart she is something very different.
Nick's characters are impeccably drawn, his language artful, and his plot intriguing. This was one of those books that I was sorry to finish and that, I have to admit, had me with a lump in my throat at the end.
"Angelmaker" is much more than a spy novel. It is a tale of struggle and loyalty; a story of family and righteousness; and a narrative of how a legacy of former years can visit havoc on the present day world. It also poses the questions, "Who is really in control?", "What are they really trying to do?" and "Do they have a clue what they're doing?"
on 6 December 2014
He has a great imagination, but it's a mess. He needs an editor who can tell him to grow up.
Mixing genres just makes it more annoying than a Saturday kids movie - I don't do genre fiction so this was a disaster.
It's just a collection of cartoon like episodes.
Two stars because he might one day do something better - unlikely I'll read it though.
on 8 April 2012
With Angelmaker, his second novel, Nick Harkaway proves that he has a distinct 'voice' - both in the way he arranges words on the page and the ideas that his writing explores - and it's a voice I definitely want to hear more of. Like it's predecessor, Gone Away World, Angelmaker is a book that celebrates and refuses to simplify language, as seems so very modern and terribly dull.
Don't worry, you won't need a dictionary, but you will be utterly engaged in this dangerous and nostalgic version of London where the gloriously imagined old criminal underworld and horrors of modern government/policy collide spectacularly.
As with writers like Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, who seem familiar presences here, Nick presents an ultimately optimistic view of the nature of man, and in a literary world where this view seems increasingly rare, I am grateful for writers who give us complex characters like Joe Spork, who can face the darkest of our world without becoming it.
Not quite the swashbuckling tale of Gone Away World, where our hero is already a soldier who must learn what it is he is fighting, Angelmaker presents a quieter sort of hero, who must learn what it means to stand up and how it is that he must fight, his way, the way that only he can.
on 20 July 2012
I did change my mind very slightly by the end but this is still a very long-winded, loosely edited book that could have been a third of the length and much tighter. The story meanders around like an engineered culvert built by a millionare madman, it just feels laboured. The violence (even the torture) has no reality and no humanity - it just seems like Violence Lite. I keep thinking.. Phillip Pullman on a very bad day when he kept writing despite the fact that he couldn't think of anything to write about.
I you like this you'll probably like Lord of the Rings, and maybe Wild Wild West (film).
If you like your atmospheric London fiction a little better crafted you'll prefer Rivers of London (Ben Aaronovitch).
Nice cover though.
on 22 January 2013
There are some wonderful, inventive ideas in here. The Ruskinites are a great creation, and rather touching with it; the effect of the Doomsday machine is frightening and original.
On the other hand, there's also a lot of annoying whimsy and juvenilia. It's trying far too hard to be cool.The main characters are cyphers, spouting identikit 'snappy' Tarantino-style dialogue, and it's very difficult to feel anything for any of them, or care about their fates. The silly names don't help. The female characters are particularly one-dimensional and unconvincing, consisting almost entirely of lithe bisexual women who get turned on by absolutely everything (in one section, one of them is turned on by the sight of her own forearm. Sigh.) As a female reader it can feel quite alienating - these are women created by male fantasy. The sheer amount of over-the-top, cringeworthy sex scenes is exasperating. It reads, at times, like something written by a hyperventilating teenage boy. You wish he'd pull himself together and focus on the plot, which can be gripping, but you'll be lucky if the action's not interrupted by pages of interminable stuff about the nature of causality or a long description of something that isn't as interesting as the author thinks it is. When you do get the action, it's often over-egged with hyper-violence and gratuitous nastiness which in the end becomes more tiresome than shocking. As others have said, also, it needs a really good edit. I've found myself skipping whole sections of superfluous stuff. You would have thought the issue might have been resolved post-Gone Away World, but Angelmaker is almost as verbose.
But then, I'm still reading it. It's gripping. Just prepare to be frustrated.
on 15 June 2012
Having already read Nick Harkaway's previous novel, the Gone Away World, I was really looking forward to this one and I wasn't disappointed.
In Angelmaker, he has allowed his imagination to once again run riot and created a tale that doesn't let up for one moment and which always keeps you wondering what on earth could possibly happen next. Joe Spork, a man who wants to just keep the head down and quietly get on with his life, also happens to inhabit an exceptionally dangerous but colourful world which intrudes on his peaceful existence. He is then forced to meet it head on and face up to where he came from and who he really is.
I love writers who can create entire worlds, populate them and keep you interested in what's happening in a seemingly effortless fashion; Harkaway has done this in both his books to date, managing to include elements of a spy thriller, gangsters and even sci-fi which generally does not interest me in the slightest. Well worth the read.
on 24 January 2013
In the rather crowded urban fantasy/steampunk/sci-fi/comedy market, Nick Harkaway has the potential to be one of the best.
Following on from The Gone Away world, he has produced another cracking adventure fizzling with verve and excitement. The writing is excellent with strong characters and an undercurrent of humour throughout.
There is room for improvement, as is only to be expected from a fairly new writer still learning his craft. The structure of the book is a little off, with the lengthy discursions into backstory having a negative impact on the pacing of the story. The plot itself and the machine central to it are a bit hard to follow - so much so that Harkaway needs a character to artificilly summarise the state of play in dialogue.
But these are quibbles. If you like Stephenson, Gaiman or Aaronovitch you really should try Harkaway.
on 17 July 2013
I bought this after seeing it at the bookshop and liking the look of the cover - most unusual for me. I had never heard of Nick Harkaway but the reviews on the back were from reputable sources. When I got home I looked at the Amazon reviews and saw that he is clearly like Marmite - you either love him or hate him. I can see why some readers found his style irritating but I chose to love it. I pride myself on good use of English and I abhor sloppy grammar and paucity of language. I really enjoyed having to look words up in the dictionary! I also enjoyed the story and the characters he created could not put the book down. It is a bit like a modern day Dickens (only not quite so long or with quite so many unrealistic coincidences). I shall definitely buy anything else he writes.
on 13 February 2012
The story is set in a modern-day London where Joshua Joseph Spork, an unassuming clockmaker (and reluctant son of a gangster), accidentally switches on a doomsday machine. A doomsday device that involves clockwork and bees (admit it, you're intrigued). In between we have periodic flashbacks to 1939 where a young English girl, Edie Banister trains to be a superspy. Harkaway ties the past and present together beautifully into a thrilling climax that the book reaches only two pages from the end.
Angelmaker attempts to answer the question--if everyone could see the truth, would the world be a better place?
Great plot, FANTASTIC characters, a mix of action, and a few love stories. This book has it all.
Harkaway's writing in this book and his first novel, The Gone-Away World, has ensured that he will be a constant favorite of mine.
If you enjoy spies, doomsday weapons and clockwork, you will LOVE this book. I guarantee it.
Deserves a very high recommendation.