I’ll admit it: when I bought Nick Harkaway’s debut novel The Gone-Away World a couple of years ago, it was entirely because of the cover. Sure, the synopsis sounded like fun (a madcap post-apocalyptic war involving bombs that make things just…go away) and the author had a pedigree (he’s John LeCarré’s son), but the cover was neon pink and green and fuzzy. I don’t mean fuzzy like the edges were blurry: I mean literally fuzzy like covered in fuzz. I had to have it. (I’m a sucker for really great cover design, like Simon Winchester’s Crack in the Edge of the World, which had a jacket that folded out into a huge newspaper front page and was infinitely better than the book it contained.)
It didn’t hurt that the book within the cover was fantastic. (And has an awe-inspiring twist partway through.) And then I waited for Harkaway to publish another book. And waited. And waited. Sure, he’d occasionally mention on Twitter that he was working on something, but his Tweets (though enjoyable) were no substitute for a second book. And then, finally: Angelmaker. And I was not disappointed.
It’s hard to described the novel’s plot or even its genre. I guess if H.G. Wells collaborated with Thomas Pynchon, you might get Angelmaker. It’s another madcap adventure, although rather than war against strange creatures using magic bombs, this one has our heroes (led by the decidedly repressible clock repairman Joshua Joseph Spork) doing battle against technology-obsessed cultists and clockwork bees. Also, there’s an octogenarian badass grandma with an adorably decrepit dog.
It’s that kind of novel. And it’s hard not to love it.
Harkaway’s writing is mindbogglingly imaginative: memorable characters, logic-defying (yet never quite illogical) plotting, and unpredictable twists. Angelmaker is much like a finely-built baroque clock: gazillions of pieces in constant movement, adding up to something gorgeous.