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Angelmaker Paperback – 3 Jan 2013
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"Angelmaker is another cracking book from Nick Harkaway. It’s a mix of sci-fi, steampunk, adventure and romance and the mix of genres work really well together … Harkaway’s Angelmaker is a brilliant piece of escapism. It’s a wonderful example of how an irreverent approach to much loved genres can lead to a truly great story." (Nudge)
"Splendid cornucopia of a novel" (The Big Issue (Wales))
"Nick Harkaway's joyfully reckless invention is as intricate as clockwork ... Edie has a tangled history, the uncovering of which is one of the chief pleasures of Nick Harkaway's novel ... is one of the most enjoyable books I've read in ages ... brilliantly entertaining, and the last hundred pages are pure, unhinged delight. What a splendid ride." (Patrick Ness Guardian)
"What kind of a mind dreams up Angelmaker … It could only be Nick Harkaway: bonkers, brilliant and hilarious … clever and entirely fantastic." (Sunday Times)
"An entertaining tour-de-force that demands to be adored." (Independent on Sunday)
From the acclaimed author of The Gone-Away World - an adventure story, a war story, and a love story, all wound into one brilliant narrative that runs like clockwork.See all Product description
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It opens in present day London, following the life of Joe Spork, clockmaker and repairer. Spork is trying to make an honest living, distancing himself from the notoriety of his dead father Matthew, a gangster of the old school. But it seems the past won't leave him alone, and when his friend Billy brings him a mysterious commission, trouble follows.
As events unwind, Harkaway dips back to the Second World War where the frighteningly capable Edie Banister is recruited as a British agent by a shadowy secret intelligance organisation based on a train and devoted to the principles of John Ruskin. We see her cross swords (literally) with the Opium Khan, a proto Bond villain set on world dominations, before falling in love with the glamorous French scientist she was sent to rescue. Along the way, however, something goes wrong, creating the situation which Joe has to deal with sixty years later. Before he can do so, he has to sort out who he really is - not easy when he's being pursued by the police, sinister Government agents with very nasty (but totally deniable) practices and homicidal monks. But Joe has allies, including the older Edie, her redoubtable dog Bastion - and the Bold Receptionist, mistress of the railway timetable.
Harkaway's story reminded me, to a degree, of Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon in its weaving together of an alternate/ secret Second World War with the present day - the books bear some resemblance too in their central characters (both in personality and in their development through the course of the story) - but Angelmaker is much, much weirder (not least in Spork's access to a hidden side of London, represented by the "Tosher's Beat" and the "Night Market", the domain of his late father) and less techie.
There are one or two details that jar, if you bother about such things - I don't think a British steam locomotive in 1940 would have a cow catcher; Bletchley Park was Station X, not Station Y; Spork seems to attract any young woman who sets foot in the same county - but they are easily set aside, this book is a celebration of the fantastical in everyday life, of love in varied forms and, in the end, of the importance of living. It's a book with great gusto, a book to get lost in - one of those too-rare books that had me going slower and slower as I neared the end, not wanting it to come to a stop: despite its length, I still wanted more.
I'm glad I've discovered Harkaway - now I can go and catch up on his previous book The Gone-Away World.
(If you liked Angelmaker, Harkaway has also published a short story featuring Edie: Edie Investigates though it's only available on Kindle at the moment).
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?"