Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley


Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Magical Realism

Similar to: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Could be enjoyed by: Lots of people, apparently

Publication date: 2nd July 2015


First things first – I hated this book.


I said it.

I’m very sorry to those of you who have told me this is one of your favourite novels but I just did not get on with it at all. This appears to be a Marmite book – you either love it or you hate it – as the reviews on Goodreads seem to be either five stars or one star.

If you loved it… well… you might not want to read what’s coming next…


The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – A Rant.

By Lucinda Is Reading, aged 36 1/4 


Lets start by describing the story. A man named (urgh) Thaniel (I hated the name – to me it sounded far too modern for someone who was meant to be living in Victorian London) finds a watch in his flat. Six months later, the watch emits some kind of alarm that makes him leave the pub (seems pretty tenuous to me but ok) when suddenly a bomb goes off. Thaniel has been saved by his loud timepiece! He somehow, through his work in the Foreign Office, gets involved in the police investigation because – I think – the bomb was clockwork and he has been given a watch and the clockwork is the same. Or something. I don’t know. So he goes off to live with the watchmaker who he thinks made his watch and maybe the bomb, in order to collect evidence in his official capacity as Home Office admin clerk. He finds out that the watchmaker has special powers but isn’t fazed and just accepts this as though it’s an everyday occurrence. A random scientist called Grace enters stage left. She has to get married to inherit a house, so she marries Thaniel after meeting him maybe twice. Turns out Thaniel likes someone else but we don’t get to find that out until he literally walks up to that person and starts snogging them. On his wedding night. Grace, having given literally no indication that their relationship is anything more than a business deal, is inexplicably jealous. Then there’s another bomb but that doesn’t have anything to do with the first one.

Oh, and there’s a clockwork octopus.

The End.

Now, obviously that’s me being mean for comic effect but I honestly couldn’t make head nor tail of the plotline of this book. There were so many things that didn’t make sense, so many threads that were left open-ended, and so many situations where characters acted so, well, out-of-character that I almost gave up numerous times. I slogged through to the end – but only just – and STILL nothing made sense. In fact, it just got weirder.

The disjointed writing was majorly off-putting. Several times I had to re-read a paragraph to work out who or what the author was referring to. Some parts of the narrative were extraordinarily detailed; others were completely lacking. The dialogue between characters was wooden and I don’t think there was a single emotion either displayed or explicitly mentioned throughout the entire book. That made it supremely difficult to get a handle on anyone’s motivations and made their actions seem, at times, completely random.

I also found the actual plot of the book… dull. Yes, there’s a super cool clockwork octopus that may or may not be alive but there’s also an awful lot of wandering around, not really saying or doing anything meaningful. I wasn’t engaged in the narrative at all as I felt there was a complete lack of tension or excitement.

One part of the novel which I will obliquely refer to as the wedding night came so far out of left field that I just couldn’t believe it had been thrown in. It felt completely inauthentic and the general reaction was far, far too modern for a novel set in the Victorian period. There were numerous other examples of inaccuracy – Thaniel learning conversational level Japanese in about a month, Grace being forced to marry because she got caught staying out late, jokes by the watchmaker about how shit the West Midlands is (one of the major centres for watchmaking during that period)… I could go on.

However, my absolute least favourite part of the book (which I will have to paraphrase, having already returned the novel to the library) was a paragraph in which a character seemed to jokingly suggest that one of the ways in which you could get out of a marriage proposal was to take a trip alone to Hampstead Heath at night. Now, I might have got the wrong end of the stick here (again, the writing is extraordinarily convoluted) but… is that a rape joke? If not – what the hell did it mean?

Overall, this book was really, really, really not for me. Plenty of people seem to love it so by all means don’t avoid it on my account – but don’t say that I didn’t warn you!


One “Did I miss something?”s out of five.

“Not for me” is the nicest thing I can say about this book.



12 thoughts on “Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

  1. Hilarious. I’m not going to read this book even for the clockwork octopus!
    The Hampstead Heath reference – probably it was where (illegally) gay people gathered, but still I don’t know how that could get someone out of a marriage.


  2. Oh dear- so sorry you hated this one. I’ve not actually read it- and I can’t say your synopsis (though entertaining) makes me want to pick it up- not ever the clockwork octopus (what/why?!) It literally makes no sense to me either. And shame about the disjointed writing style as well. I have no idea what the point of that Hampstead Heath at night reference means?! Sucks that you had such a bad time reading this, but amazing review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Hehe, have a look at the Goodreads reviews – people have quoted passages from the text (which I wanted to do but I’d already returned the book and I don’t like using secondhand sources) and it is soooooo bad. Here’s one (alleged) example:

      “‘The snow came down and silently down. There was snow in his thoughts, too. Matsumoto had been afraid. So had Grace. Through the snow, he couldn’t see whether it was because they both understood things he hadn’t, or because they had failed to understand something. And so he couldn’t tell whether he had just watched Mori go to do what he had said, or just what Grace had said he would.”



      1. I KNOW RIGHT! I still can’t make sense of it. Every few pages there’s a sentence where it’s not clear who is being referred to or what’s going on. The whole thing seems to have skipped the editing phase.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Your blog is a breath of fresh air in the otherwise stuffy, unreal atmosphere created by so many sycophantic reviews: ‘Elegant plotting, lashings of invention…’ Guardian ‘Delightful, relentlessly charming…’ Los Angeles Times; what codswallop: the book is relentlessly unconvincing!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear lucindablogs
    I’ve just abandoned this appalling brainache of a book, having really tried to finish it, but the ‘structure’ is so utterly unreadable.

    It just doesn’t work on any level whatsoever.

    Liked by 2 people

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