Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Review of Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

Nick Harkaway’s debut novel The Gone-Away World was a dazzle. Lexically acrobatic putting it mildly, Harkaway tangoed and waltzed his away around direct exposition the entire length of the novel, all while telling the story of a young man and his sworn enemy caught in a post-apocalyptic, comic book scenario that was as much Kill Bill as Mad Max. Plot a touch thin, content occasionally indulgent, and the lexicon at times a bit too exuberant, Harkaway, however, maintained momentum with his undeniable narrative voice and the wild combination of motifs. It practically begged the question, what would (could?) Harkaway bring to the table with his sophomore effort, 2012’s Angelmaker

Everyday man Joe Spork, a watch repairman by trade, finds himself in possession of a most sought after book. His shop cum warehouse cum house where his grandfather was also a watch repairman starts getting clientele like he’s never seen before—some a little too flexible to be entirely human. But little beknownst to him, the trigger of wilder things is actually an innocuous request from a repeat customer, a kindly old woman who wants a clockwork toy soldier repaired. Spork performing the job with delight, events begin unfolding on the global scale. Bees, strange mechanical bees, swarm here and there, terrorism is cried from the rooftops, and Spork finds himself struggling to stay this side of mortality as the significance of the book and his grandfather’s work come into brighter light. What the book trailer politely calls an “inadvertent adventurer,” Joe ends up with the fate of the world on his shoulders. It’s a good thing he becomes something more than Ordinary Joe…

Adventurous certainly one word to describe Angelmaker, vivacious, humorous, expansive, and flashy are also appropriate. Angelmaker a more focused (read: less digressive) effort than The Gone-Away World, it contains more story in fewer pages yet is still written in the style that readers who enjoyed the former will continue to drool over appreciate in the latter. Granny ninjas, intricate clockwork devices, Fu Manchu villains, strange religious cults, ambidextrous French mathematicians, said mechanical bees, truth engines, a ruby-eyed pug—these are the bulbs and garland, and lights and star on top, but the enduringly clever usage of language remains the tree.

One of my complaints about The Gone-Away World was the lack of a scaled ending. Harkaway kind of, sort of, building plot and tension throughout, the ending failed to meet the proportion that seemed to have been billed. There is a climax, but its size is rather diminutive compared to the epic-ness of the showdown foreshadowed. Angelmaker, on the other hand, lives up to its own billing. The climax is as much classic as it is fitting. Though the novel’s overall sensibility is Victorian, the ratcheting up of tension culminates in a scene more comic book—both facets which complement the steampunk threads running through the storyline.

In the end, Angelmaker is a spot of literary confection. Easily a wedding cake, it is a big, rich mouthful of tale filigreed with delightful prose. Storytelling that continually moves in unexpected directions, Harkaway’s perpetually lateral view is the engine driving matters. Featuring the quotidian (and appropriately named) Joe Spork, his tale is what happens when Neil Gaiman meets Guy Ritchie and they go steampunk… ish.

No comments:

Post a Comment