Nick Harkaway burst on to the scene with The Gone Away World, in 2008 with what many considered one of the best debuts of year. We had to wait 4 years for his next book Angelmaker. People cry afoul when authors don't get a book out a year or even every two years, but many times those are the books worth remembering for the long term, which is the case here. Meet sensible Joseph Spork, careful Joseph. Then young and adventurous Joe. And finally crazy Joe along the way.
Angelmaker is part Spy novel, part family legacy, part end of the world, and just plain crazy. Well plain may not be right, but you get the idea. This is a melding that in most writers hands would fall apart, but Harkaway has the indelible skills to bring them together in a most satisfying way. Each and every character from the top down to those who only get a few pages are brought to life, right down to the little dog too.
"The dog's name is Bastion, and it is without shame or mercy. Any dog worth the name will sniff your crotch on arrival, but Bastion has buried his carbuncled nose in the angle of Joe's trousers and shows no inclination to retreat. Joe shifts slight, and the dog rewards him with a warning mutter, deep in the chest: I have my mouth in close proximity to your genitals, oh thou man who talks to my mistress over coffee. Do not irk or trifle with me! I possess but one tooth, oh, yes, for the rest were buried long ago in the flesh of sinners."This could be considered Steampunk to a certain degree for those who don't think they like Steampunk. Yet it isn't exactly Steampunk, but it does take the most beautiful elements of the genre and incorporates them in a gorgeous fashion at the heart of a Spy/Adventure story. The story flips between present in London following around Joe Spork, who fixes clockwork devices while lamenting his family's lurid past along with the adventures Edie, a female secret agent more than fifty years before in her glory days. And when the two stories collide things just start exploding.
There are many flashbacks, which at first seem a bit much, but you just have to go with. They almost always payoff. The language is quite endearing even when it goes off the rails a bit. Harkaway isn't one adverse to a bit of slapstick as evidenced by character names such as Rodney Titwhistle. But there is a lot of beauty is the story. Especially, the artisan devices that proliferate this world and the characters love for each other shines through amid all the hi-jinks and capering. This is very much a kitchen sink book with every back story told and every mystery explained even when you don't think there will be time.
If Opium Khans, horny secretaries, crazy cultists, mechanical doomsday devices, and shady underworld dealings sound at all intriguing then Angelmaker is a can't miss story. Just don't expect to be entirely sane at the end. The characters certainly aren't. Angelmaker is definitely one to savor and not push through. As of right now it's my favorite new book this year and it will take a doozy of a story to knock it off that perch. I give Angelmaker 5 out of 5 hats. Despite some sluggishness at the start it turned out to be a rip-roaring adventure I'd have love to be stuck in the middle of.
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