Sep. 28th, 2015

raven: (middleman - sleepy wendy)
I read this novel on [personal profile] happydork's advice because it sounded amazingly relevant to my interests! And it was; but quite apart from all the parts where it seemed to have been written for me personally (historical fantasy! beleaguered civil servants! shy queers!) it's a beautiful, affecting, melancholy book that I really loved a whole lot, and this is an unqualified recommendation.

So it's 1884 in a steampunk-inflected London, and Nathaniel Steepleton is a Home Office telegraphist who despises his employer the same way I despise his employer. Thaniel (his father was Nat; it's a choice he makes) works the night shift and his life is small and dark, haunted by poverty and the sulphurous fumes on the Underground; soon after the novel begins he turns twenty-five, and is frozen by the knowledge that this is not where he wanted his life to be.

But - there are flashes of something else. There's Thaniel's prodigious musical talent, which he can never quite put away, though he tries; there's his ritualistic insistence on good tea, which he carves space for out of the night shift; and with it, there's the interesting fact that although it's 1884 and he doesn't know the word, he has synaesthesia. And then one day he lives through a terrorist bombing and meets a watchmaker called Keita Mori, who is such an accomplished craftsman that his clockwork trees grow and his clockwork octopus steals Thaniel's ties, and the rest - is not history, exactly. It's complicated.

In the background of those two, there's also Ito, who is an even more beleaguered civil servant than Thaniel is, and Grace, an Oxford physicist, who is busy sneaking into libraries dressed as a man while trying to experimentally prove the existence of luminiferous ether - which you wouldn't think was very relevant to clockwork or telegraphy, but it is.

And, having said all of that, it's hard to explain anything else about the novel without major spoilers, so but I think it's not revealing too much to say Thaniel's life fills with light after he meets Mori; that their friendship and eventual romance is beautifully realised but comes on soft feet, so you don't know what's happening until it's happened around you. One thing that is absolutely vital to this novel is that you read every word. Which is fine! I shouldn't skim-read novels, but I do, we all do, and I had to consciously stop myself and slow down for this. (There's a point, quite late on in the book, where one character hits another character on the head, and if you only half-read that sentence, you would have no idea.) Once I realised that, the whole thing transformed in my hands into something with all the filigree-delicacy the title suggests; it's really all there, in the details, this lovely story and lovely romance.

spoilery commentary )

It's beautiful. I wish I'd written it.

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