Book Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

Title: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street
Author: Natasha Pulley
Publication Date: 2 July 2015 (ebook) or 14 July 2016 (paperback)


In 1883, Thaniel Steepleton returns to his tiny flat to find a gold pocketwatch on his pillow. When the watch saves Thaniel’s life in a blast that destroys Scotland Yard, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori – a kind, lonely Japanese immigrant. Meanwhile, Grace Carrow is sneaking into an Oxford library, desperate to prove the existence of the luminiferous ether before her mother can force her to marry.

As the lives of these three characters become entwined, events spiral out of control until Thaniel is torn between loyalties, futures and opposing geniuses.


With her second novel, The Bedlam Stacks being published last month, I thought this would be a great time to review Natasha Pulley’s debut novel, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. I know that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, however a book that looks this good has a lot to live up to!

The tale is largely set in Victorian London around the time of the Clan na Gael Irish nationalist movement, and it was interesting to learn a bit about London politics at that time. The story also takes us to Oxford and Japan, and I greatly enjoyed the glimpse into Victorian-era Japan, a time when the country was recovering from the Boshin civil war.

The book is, in fact, gripping from start to finish, with Pulley creating a rich and detailed world that draws the reader in. Thaniel Steepleton is a telegraph clerk working for the Home Office. One evening, he returns home to his bedsit to find that his room has been broken into and a gold pocket watch has been left waiting for him. He has no idea how it got there or who it is from. After the watch saves his life in a most peculiar way, Thaniel is determined to track down its maker, the mysterious Keita Mori, a Japanese watchmaker based in Filigree Street, suspicious that he may have some involvement in a recent terrorist attack. As Thaniel and Mori strike up a friendship, the reader is also introduced to Grace Carrow, an eccentric Oxford student who has undertaken a mission to prove the existence of ether. The tale flows forth with several twists and surprises, until Thaniel finds himself torn between his two friends.

The writing is very detailed which, I felt, caused the story to drag slightly in the early chapters, however  the pace quickly picks up and falls into a steady flow. I very much enjoyed the author’s elegant and evocative writing style, such as when she is talking about the watch, Pulley writes “The gold caught the ember-light and shone the colour of a human voice”

The plot is great fun and very engaging, leading the reader into a thought-provoking journey of random chance versus destiny. Our lives are made up of a series of events which influence the direction that our futures take. Are those events predetermined? If so, what would happen if we could see those events and the impact those events will have on our future lives? 

The tale does address some weighty subjects, such as gender equality, class and racism, all issues that would have been naturally quite prevalent in society during the 1880’s, however those issues are well-thought and do not distract from the main story line.

There are some little quirks to the story that I really enjoyed, including reading about Mori’s workshop and some of his seemingly magical creations. I particularly loved the addition of Katsu, the sock-stealing clockwork Octopus.

To summarise, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is an elegant, complex, and charming tale. This is a book that I would happily recommend.

About the Author

Natasha Pulley lives in Ely. She studied English Literature at Oxford University. After working as a bookseller, then at Cambridge University Press as a publishing assistant in the astronomy and maths departments, she did the Creative Writing MA at UEA. She spent nineteen months in Tokyo on a scholarship from the Daiwa Anglo–Japanese Foundation. 

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