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July 20, 2012

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

I found it difficult to get into Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway. The story starts following Joe Spork, a son of a notorious gangster who has made an honest living fixing clocks and clockwork items. The introductory stages of the story felt a bit sedate, maybe if you liked the atmosphere of the descriptions of London or were into clockwork things there may be greater appeal, but I was left cold by the setting and waiting for something to happen.

Eventually the story did pick up to interest me, but only when it switched from following Joe Spork to Edie Bannister an old woman, but whose past was that of a spy. The story thread in the past seemed to have more energy and zing and was a bit more bonkers. I didn't really care for all the steampunky descriptions of old trains and submarines but there was a bit of action and a villain to hate. In fact Edie's exploits could have filled more of the novel for me, with a whole lifetime skipped over in a few paragraphs that sounded quite exciting to me.

Then back to Joe Spork. He didn't really get going as a character until the last quarter of the book after a "life changing event" (I'll skip the details as they're spoilers). I definitely didn't enjoy that event, I know I'm not supposed to, but the intensity of it felt like it was sharply making a point and out of place. As a transformation event I suppose it's believable and afterwards the story turns into a faster gung-ho caper story. Which was better, except for the fact that it seemed to view the London gangster scene with misty eyed reminiscences. Maybe it was ironic? Not sure, but it annoyed me, I don't like gangsters and I don't particularly like London. It was all a bit irritating.

The plot device didn't work for me either, a pure macguffin at the centre, with clockwork bees feeling a little silly. At times the plot seemed a bit afraid to confront the global scale of the confrontation instead returning to Joe Spork and his fights. I understand the story is about him, but the worldwide effects were glossed over briefly.

To me, Angelmaker wanted to be a character study of a man who'd turned his back on crime, with a fantastical macguffin thrown in for a plot excuse. Disappointing.