hthayer, March 3, 2014 (view all comments by hthayer)
I am so torn about this book -- I loved it and yet I have one overwhelming complaint that compels me to give it only three stars.
First, the good: This book is deliciously well written, with virtually every sentence, every paragraph a tumbling glory of words that are enough to make any bibliophile smile and laugh aloud at the sheer clever audacity of the language.
The bad: The words become an avalanche that bury the story, the tangents and the clever asides, the rollicking similes and metaphors (what does an accordion falling into porridge sound like, anyway?), the over-the-top character and place descriptions build and build until the reader is helpless against the onslaught. The world building was wonderful and the few characters who I could clearly keep ahold of were well-developed and interesting. I think that the story was interesting too, but I don't know because I was so lost at the end that I could barely figure out what was happening. Characters came and went to reappear thousands of words and worlds later without reintroduction with the expectation that I would remember everything about them and their backstory, which is somehow critical to the action, but I don't know because I am lost in yet another paragraph that is busy circling around to pat itself on the back with its own cleverness.
I wouldn't want to give up on the wonderful language, but it would have been helpful if, at the end of every chapter, there had been a recap that told me what had actually happened or if when a character reappeared after a long absence there had been a note in the margin that would remind me who they were.
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Karen from SF, January 30, 2013 (view all comments by Karen from SF)
The urban proto-steampunk fantasy noir zombie book is soooo done. Or so it seems. Then this book comes along and blows the genre out of the water. What a fantastic ride! This book is enjoyable, well-written, and startling imaginative from beginning to end. It's got a little Gaiman, a little Chandler, a little Stevenson, but derivative of no one. The characters are wonderful, believable, and well-drawn, even the passing side characters. My bookclub read this and, though we have 7 members and 14 opinions, we all loved it. That NEVER happens.
If any of this appeals, do pick up Angelmaker. You won't regret it.
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mainecolonial, January 8, 2013 (view all comments by mainecolonial)
Here's the thing. I very rarely give a book five stars. As a Mainer, I was brought up to practice moderation. To say I liked a book is fine, but to say I LOVED it is a display of flamboyant emotion my fellow Mainers would look at askance. But there's no help for it; I did love this book.
Now the hard part. What's it about? Well, it's an old-fashioned tale of British Empire swashbuckling adventure (think The Man Who Would Be King, or King Solomon's Mines), a science fiction technology nightmare, a family drama, a coming-of-age story, a jeremiad against contemporary finance-world fiddles and the modern Orwellian state that tortures its citizens to protect their freedoms, a tragedy, a comedy, a romance. Hmm, that's not very helpful in giving you a picture of the book, is it? What if I say it's about a supervillain known as the Opium Khan who, with his "Ruskinites," an army of black-clad man-machines, and aided by the cynical complicity of the modern security state, works tirelessly over decades to achieve the power of a god over all of humanity, all the while countered by ingenious men and women and their steampunkish submarines, trains, various other devices and a network of extremely quirky characters and one ancient, blind, bad-tempered and one-toothed pug? No, I thought not.
Let's try another tack and look at the plot. Joshua Joseph Spork is a young, London clock maker and restorer of various types of clever machines, like Victorian automata. He is the son of the late ingenious and flashy gangster, Matthew "Tommy Gun" Spork, and the grandson of Matthew's disapproving clockmaker father, Daniel. Despite his love for his father and affection for the gangster world of the Night Market, where the criminal underworld meets periodically in a grand secret bazaar, Joe is so determined not to be like him that he has, as he says, dedicated his life to being mild. He's a quiet, law-abiding man, so shy and retiring he can't even bring himself to follow through on the world's most obvious hint when a generously bosomed barmaid places his hand over her heart.
Joe isn't a complete saint, though. He knows the sin of covetousness when he doggedly visits ancient Edie Bannister and feels sure she's working up to offering him some really excellent piece of machinery to work on. And she is, but she might have left it just a little late. What she has is a piece of a device that, like the atomic bomb, has the power to end all wars or destroy the world, depending on who controls it. And, suddenly, a lot of very bad men, including government men, want to be the ones to get their hands on it and are willing to do anything to Edie, Joe and everyone they ever knew to achieve their goal.
There follows a tale of dazzling imagination and invention that takes us back in time to Edie's youth as a highly skilled government agent doing battle with super villain Shem Shem Tsien and falling in love with Joe's genius inventor grandmother--the creator of the sought-after device. This long trip into the past is no digression, though, because everything that happens there is supremely important to Joe's story in the present.
In fact, though this is a long book crammed to the bursting point with anecdotes, people, places and things, not a single bit of it is frippery. It's all a part of the grand and intricate machinery that drives this epic story, one in which Joe ceases to be mild and embraces everything he ever learned from Matthew and his world. Why? So he can save the universe and get the girl, of course.
All of the characters in this book are deftly drawn, the plot is always easy to follow despite its complexity, and Harkaway writes with a scintillating and abundant style that is just to the good side of florid. I'd say the book would make a crackerjack movie, except you'd miss the playful ingenuity of Harkaway's prose.
Harkaway is the son of famed espionage writer John le Carré. I imagine he knows a thing or two about growing up with a larger-than-life father, and that has added poignancy to Joe's story. Harkaway has chosen to follow his father's career and I'm glad he did. Though I warn you that this book may ruin you for any other reading for awhile. When I finished it, I was still so under its spell that nothing else appealed to me. I think I'll just give up and find a copy of Harkaway's first novel, The Gone-Away World.
A note about the audiobook: Daniel Weyman is the best possible narrator of this book. He understands that this is a story that needs to be ACTED, with absolute abandon, and he throws himself into it with all the energy and dash it deserves.
WongKaiWen, December 22, 2012 (view all comments by WongKaiWen)
If you enjoy the way words can roll around and reassemble in marvelous and unexpected ways, read Angelmaker. Harkaway makes me happy to read. So few people write sentences that make me stop in wonder at their beauty. Just watching the phrases, feeling pleasure at the way the words are coming off the page and floating in my head.
The story is good, if occasionally lost in the meandering of words well used. When you enjoy the use of words, it's probably best not to use a non-linear time line. The reader is apt to get lost watching the lights on the wall and miss the turning. Still, the lights on the wall are well worth being distracted by and the path can always be found on the next page or chapter.
The characters, especially Edie Bannister, are lovely. The evil neer-do-well, is truly despicable, but it's his truly horrifying henchmen that work best. These side characters that seem to be the bogey men under beds, make you fear that they won't be comfortably ended when the book ends and will always sneak out of corners unseen. Harkaway makes us a truly bizarre and unsettling set of bogies and that is nice treat.
I loved the book. I can see already its a book I will read again and again, just because it will be fun to visit.
by Niall Alexander, Tor.com,
"It's hard to put a finger on exactly why Angelmaker is one of the year's best books. Know this, though: it is."
by Billy Heller, New York Post,
"Greetings to Joe Spork, the book world's newest hero. He springs from the fertile, absurdist imagination of Harkaway in his follow-up to The Gone-Away World."
by Adam Woog, The Seattle Times,
"Brilliant, wholly original, and a major-league hoot."
by Emily St. John Mandel, The Millions,
"[Harkaway] manages to write surrealist adventure novels that feel both urgent and relevant. His novels are fun to read without seeming particularly frivolous, and beneath all the derring-do and shenanigans, there's a low thrum of anxiety: everything and everyone you love could disappear at any moment....Angelmaker is a truly impressive achievement."
by Glen Weldon, Slate,
"A big, gleefully absurd, huggable bear of a novel....A pleasantly roomy book, a grand old manor house of a novel that sprawls and stretches....In passage after passage, Angelmaker opens up, making room for the reader, until we aren't merely empathizing with Joe Spork's plight but feeling it keenly....All the more reason to applaud Harkaway for creating Joe Spork: not only like us but likable, a hero who serves not as a dark mirror but as a funhouse one."
by Paul Di Filippo, Barnes and Noble Review,
"[A] gloriously uninhibited romp of a novel....Harkaway has managed to recapture the lighthearted brio of an earlier age of precision entertainment, when the world was deemed to be perpetually teetering on the brink of Armageddon but always capable of being snatched back to safety with a quip, a wink, [and] a judo chop."
by Jonathan Liu, Wired.com's GeekDad blog,
"A lot of books are fun to read for the plot; a smaller percentage display this artful mastery of the language. And precious few manage to do both. Angelmaker, the second novel by British writer Nick Harkaway, falls into that last category....This is not the sort of book I zip through, despite wanting to know what happens next. It's the sort of book you want to let steep in your brain a bit before you take another taste."
by Tim Martin, Daily Telegraph (Starred Review),
"An intricate and brilliant piece of escapism, tipping its hat to the twisting plots of John Buchan and H. Rider Haggard, the goggles-and-gauntlets Victoriana of the steampunk movement and the labyrinthine secret Londons of Peter Ackroyd and Iain Sinclair, while maintaining an originality, humour and verve all its author's own....Angelmaker must have been huge fun to write, and it is huge fun to read....A fantasy espionage novel stuffed with energetic, elegant writing that bowls the reader along while reflecting profitably on the trends of the times. Gleefully nostalgic and firmly modern, hand-on-heart and tongue-in-cheek, this is as far as it could be from the wearied tropes that dominate so much of fantasy and SF. I can't wait to see what Harkaway does next."
by Bill Ott, Booklist (starred review),
"Harkaway's celebrated debut, The Gone-Away World...was really just a warm up act — a prodigiously talented novelist stretching muscles that few other writers even possess — for this tour de force Dickensian bravura and genre-bending splendor....This is a marvelous book, both sublimely intricate and compulsively readable."
by Kirkus (starred review),
"Harkaway keeps us guessing, traveling the edges between fantasy, sci-fi, the detective novel, pomo fiction and a good old-fashioned comedy of the sort that Jerome K. Jerome might have written had he had a ticking thingy instead of a boat as his prop....His tale stands comparison to Haruki Murakami's 1Q84."
by Jim Coan, Library Journal,
"A long, wild journey through a London dream world....With its bizarre scenarios and feverish wordiness, its huge cast of British eccentrics and the ark forces of paranoia and totalitarianism lurking everywhere, this novel recalls the works of Martin Amis and Will Self. Immense fun and quite exciting."
by Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus,
"A puzzle box of a novel as fascinating as the clockwork bees it contains, filled with intrigue, espionage and creative use of trains. As if that were not enough to win my literary affection, Harkaway went and gave me a raging crush on a fictional lawyer."
by William Gibson, author of Zero History,
"You are in for a treat, sort of like Dickens meets Mervyn Peake in a modern Mother London. The very best sort of odd."
by Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe,
"Nick Harkaway's novel is like a fractal: when examined at any scale, it reveals itself to be complex, fine-structured and ornately beautiful. And just like a fractal, all of this complexity and beauty derives from a powerful and elegant underlying idea."
by Matt Haig, author of The Radleys,
"This brilliant, boundless mad genius of a book runs on its own frenetic energy, and bursts with infinite wit, inventive ambition and damn fine storytelling. You finish reading it in gape-mouthed awe and breathless admiration, having experienced something very special indeed."
by Dexter Palmer, author of The Dream of Perpetual Motion,
"A joyously sprawling, elaborately plotted, endlessly entertaining novel filled with adventure, comedy, espionage, and romance, Angelmaker also deals with intriguing questions of free will and the nature of truth without stopping to take a breath. As if the book is made of clockwork, the pages turn themselves."
A rollicking romp of a spy thriller from the acclaimed author of The Gone-Away World.
Joe Spork fixes clocks. He has turned his back on his father’s legacy as one of London’s flashiest and most powerful gangsters and aims to live a quiet life. Edie Banister retired long ago from her career as a British secret agent. She spends her days with a cantankerous old pug for company. That is, until Joe repairs a particularly unusual clockwork mechanism, inadvertently triggering a 1950s doomsday machine. His once-quiet life is suddenly overrun by mad monks who worship John Ruskin, psychopathic serial killers, mad geniuses and dastardly villains. On the upside, he catches the eye of bright and brassy Polly, a woman with enough smarts to get anyone out of a sticky situation. In order to save the world and defeat the nefarious forces threatening it, Joe must help Edie complete a mission she abandoned years ago, and he must summon the courage to pick up his father’s old gun and join the fight.
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