Joe Spork repairs clocks, a far cry from his late father, a flashy London gangster. But when Joe fixes one particularly unusual device, his life is suddenly upended. Joe's client, Edie Banister, is more than just a kindly old lady - she's a former superspy. And the device? It's a 1950s doomsday machine. And having triggered it, Joe now faces the wrath of both the government and a diabolical South Asian dictator, Edie's old arch-nemesis.
With Joe's once-quiet world now populated with mad monks, psychopathic serial killers, scientific geniuses, girls in pink leather, and threats to the future of conscious life in the universe, he realizes that the only way to survive is to muster the courage to fight, help Edie complete a mission she gave up years ago, and pick up his father's old gun.
Here's the thing. I very rarely give a book five stars. As a Mainer, I was brought up to practice moderation. To say I liked a book is fine, but to say I LOVED it is a display of flamboyant emotion my fellow Mainers would look at askance. But there's no help for it; I did love this book.
Now the hard part. What's it about? Well, it's an old-fashioned tale of British Empire swashbuckling adventure (think The Man Who Would Be King, or King Solomon's Mines), a science fiction technology nightmare, a family drama, a coming-of-age story, a jeremiad against contemporary finance-world fiddles and the modern Orwellian state that tortures its citizens to protect our freedoms, a tragedy, a comedy, a romance. Hmm, that's not very helpful in giving you a picture of the book, is it? What if I say it's about a supervillain known as the Opium Khan who, with his "Ruskinites," an army of black-clad man-machines, and aided by the cynical complicity of the modern security state, works tirelessly over decades to achieve the power of a god over all of humanity, all the while countered by ingenious men and women and their steampunkish submarines, trains, various other devices and a network of extremely quirky characters and one ancient, blind, bad-tempered and one-toothed pug? No, I thought not.
Let's try another tack and look at the plot. Joshua Joseph Spork is a young, London clock maker and restorer of various types of clever machines, like Victorian automata. He is the son of the late ingenious and flashy gangster, Matthew "Tommy Gun" Spork, and the grandson of Matthew's disapproving clockmaker father, Daniel. Despite his love for his father and affection for the gangster world of the Night Market, where the criminal underworld meets periodically in a grand secret bazaar, Joe is so determined not to be like him that he has, as he says, dedicated his life to being mild. He's a quiet, law-abiding man, so shy and retiring he can't even bring himself to follow through on the world's most obvious hint when a generously bosomed barmaid places his hand over her heart.
Joe isn't a complete saint, though. He knows the sin of covetousness when he doggedly visits ancient Edie Bannister and feels sure she's working up to offering him some really excellent piece of machinery to work on. And she is, but she might have left it just a little late. What she has is a piece of a device that, like the atomic bomb, has the power to end all wars or destroy the world, depending on who controls it. And, suddenly, a lot of very bad men, including government men, want to be the ones to get their hands on it and are willing to do anything to Edie, Joe and everyone they ever knew to achieve their goal.
There follows a tale of dazzling imagination and invention that takes us back in time to Edie's youth as a highly skilled government agent doing battle with super villain Shem Shem Tsien and falling in love with Joe's genius inventor grandmother––the creator of the sought-after device. This long trip into the past is no digression, though, because everything that happens there is supremely important to Joe's story in the present.
In fact, though this is a long book crammed to the bursting point with anecdotes, people, places and things, not a single bit of it is frippery. It's all a part of the grand and intricate machinery that drives this epic story, one in which Joe ceases to be mild and embraces everything he ever learned from Matthew and his world. Why? So he can save the universe, of course.
All of the characters in this book are deftly drawn, the plot is always easy to follow despite its complexity, and Harkaway writes with a scintillating and abundant style that is just to the good side of florid. I'd say the book would make a crackerjack movie, except you'd miss the playful ingenuity of Harkaway's prose.
Harkaway is the son of famed espionage writer John le Carré. I imagine he knows a thing or two about growing up with a larger-than-life father, and that has added poignancy to Joe's story. Harkaway has chosen to follow his father's career and I'm glad he did. Though I warn you that this book may ruin you for any other reading for awhile. When I finished it, I was still so under its spell that nothing else appealed to me. I think I'll just give up and find a copy of Harkaway's first novel, The Gone-Away World.
A note about the audiobook: Daniel Weyman is the best possible narrator of this book. He understands that this is a story that needs to be ACTED, with absolute abandon, and he throws himself into it with all the energy and dash it deserves.
After I fell head over heels for Harkaway's spectacular "The Gone-Away World," "Angelmaker" became my most anticipated book of 2012. My patience was well rewarded! With scintillating wit and seemingly effortless style, Harkaway delivered another absurd and glorious adventure, introducing vibrant, complex characters and a frenetic, magnificently layered world for them to inhabit.
Better still, Daniel Weyman gives one of the most animated, engaging audiobook performances I've experienced. This is a must-buy!
And now I want to reread "The Gone-Away World."
Having enjoyed Nick Harkaway's debut novel, "The Gone-Away World," very much, I looked forward enormously to Angelmaker, hoping to find a similar spirit of gung-ho up-against-it little people against a big evil world, with extra ninjas and doomsday weapons.
And he delivered. And the only reason I am giving this 4 stars instead of 5 is that he delivered pretty much the same package.
Nick Harkaway has a definite style, a very recognizable style, dialog full of clever banter and witty asides with even the most gruesomely evil monsters taking the time to exchange bon mots with the people they intend to torture to death slowly. I like it, but it can get to be very much of a muchness, if that makes any sense, and after reading two entire books packed full of it, I'd like to see him expand a bit both in style and substance.
Because, really, Angelmaker is his first novel with a new skin. Instead of post-apocalyptic with kung fu, mutants, and ninjas, it's clockworks (not "steampunk") and espionage, with jujutsu and evil monks.
Since jujutsu is my style, I did appreciate recognizing all the moves, though. :)
“Mr. Pritchard! What are you doing? Is that O-soto-gari? No! It is not! It is a yak mating with a tractor! That is really very very not very good! My grandfather is weeping in Heaven, or he would if there were such a place, which there is not because religion is a mystification contrived by monarchists! Again! Again, and this time do it properly!”
How can you not love a Marxist Mr. and Mrs. Miyagi calling Mr. Churchill "A capitalist fathead, and a very nice man"?
The story goes back and forth a bit between Edie Banister's World War II-era adventures as a lesbian James Bond and the modern day, in which Everyman protagonist Joe Spork suddenly finds himself holding the wrong end of a stick, the other end of which is held by an assortment of very, very bad people. Pretty soon he is neck-deep in evil monks, century-old megalomaniacal torturers, naughty (in a "violating the Geneva Convention and many other interesting laws" kind of way) bureaucrats, and a doomsday weapon consisting of clockwork evil bees.
Naturally, Edie Banister and Joe Spork will find themselves on the same road eventually. If the idea of an old lady and her nearly-toothless pug mowing down bad guys sounds like fun, I assure you Nick Harkaway describes these heroic feats of decrepitude in an entertaining if not entirely believable way.
There are heroic sacrifices, heartwarming speeches, and Crowning Moments of Awesome.
It's just, I read almost the same moments in The Gone-Away World. This doesn't make them any less fun, but it does make them a little less mind-blowing. You need to pull out of a few new tricks to blow my mind again, Nick.
Joe Spork, a nerdy, ordinary guy who somehow finds himself responsible for stopping an apocalypse and having awesome sex with a superhot action girl, reminds me of a Neil Gaiman character if Neil Gaiman's everyman protagonists ever actually did anything.
I could also see a bit more of Harkaway's father's influence this time. John Le Carré, especially in his last few books, has really been beating the "British government is corrupt and evil" drum, and there's a lot of shady eternal-war-on-terror political skewering in Angelmaker.
Harkaway, like his father, is a very skilled author who seems to be working a niche and working it well. I enjoyed this book very much, and will read his next. I highly recommend it both to those who have already ready The Gone-Away World and those who haven't. I do hope to see something just a little bit different next time - if it's more unlikely heroes battling sadistic ninja mutants and tyrannical government agencies to save the world, I'm going to suspect Nick Harkaway is not just in a niche, but a rut.
Some writers I love for their biting irreverant satire, like Vonnegut, Swift and Twain. Some writers I love for their opulent, vivid use of language, like Tom Robbins and Robert Anton Wilson. And some I love for the sheer inventiveness of their storytelling, like Neil Gaiman and Michael Chabon.
Nick Harkaway managed all of the above in his first novel, "The Gone Away World" (TGAW).
Therefore, I was both looking forward to - and dreading - Harkaway's second work, "Angelmaker". It seemed like I would almost certainly be disappointed.
I wasn't: if anything, "Angelmaker" represents a tighter, more focused narrative - while maintaining the strengths that made TGAW such a joy. Furthermore, "Angelmaker" isn't hampered by a contrived plot twist that was a sour note for me in TGAW.
As with TGAW, "Angelmaker" flits between genres with ease: is it spy thriller? Sort of. A mystery? Kind of. A sci-fi adventure? A bit. A gangster tale? Somewhat. It really defies category, and that's one of Harkaway's gifts… he plays with the tropes of genre without being constrained by them, and the results are delightful. Finally, Harkaway's characters are rich and amusing, and their dialogue frequently sparkles.
Both of the Audible versions of the books are deftly narrated: some of the best performances among my (several dozen) audiobooks. The narrators are able to breathe life into the character's voices, helping you enjoy them as the distinct personalities that they are.
This might be the most unique book I have listened to and I have listened to a lot.. At first I came close to quitting because it sounded contrived. At the end I feel the author wrote a book so unique and so imaginative that the word genius comes to mind.
The narrator is very good however the production was somewhat lacking with pauses where there should not be.
Recommendation: If you choose to listen to this book, spend the time to follow the plot and characters. I did not at first and lost the thread to some of the story lines and characters.
This is the only book on tape that I plan on re listening to. Bravo Nick Harkaway it would interesting to meet you.
I absolutely love audiobooks. There is simply nothing like having someone read you an engrossing story; not to mention you can get things done while you listen. I always have one on the go.
This is a really fun read. I loved Harkaway's Gone Away World which is why I picked this one up, and it did not disappoint. He is the kind of author that provides just the right amount of imagination and oddity that the world seems believable - not fantasy - yet has that adventurous quality I long for in a novel. It is the kind of book that sends me back to audible right away in hopes of finding another great journey.
Picture Neil Gaiman and Kurt Vonnegut at their peaks writing a book together. This might be the result. A mad romp through speculative fiction, weaving in and out of actual history to produce a story both mad in its premise and even more-so in its scope. Even a dog gets an inner-monologue. I'll not insult the book by trying to summarize it.
This is my first exposure to Nick Harkaway (based on a review of the book online) and it was well worth it. This is also the first performance by Daniel Weyman I've listened to. He only added to the joy of listening. I will certainly be looking for other works from these gentlemen.
What a great ride. Great characters, great story, believable in a Tarantino-without-the-ultra-violence kinda way. Well worth a credit, and one of my favorite stories from 2012.
A clockwork repair guy trying to live a quiet, below-the-radar life in an alternate-present London gets embroiled in a quest to save the world from a doomsday device that works by causing people to experience existential despair.
This is a swashbuckling, steampunkish story, with a lot (but not too much) complexity and Daniel Weyman performs it very well. It's a little like a Neal Stephenson novel, but not nearly so thoughtful. That's why I've given the story three stars. It seemed like too intelligent of a construction to end by romanticizing gangsters and a climax that's an explosion of gleeful violence. Harkaway tries to fudge the issue by making the villain ridiculously evil and his minions a sort of automaton, but you can't have your cake and eat it, too. Either you're smarter than the average action movie, or you're not, and ultimately, Angelmaker isn't. Still, I enjoyed it.
Nick Harkaway, son of John le Carré (author of the "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" series), became my favorite author when first I picked up a copy of his debut novel, "The Gone Away World", and his second addition to the literary world is, if anything, better than the first. I could honestly talk for hours about the man's skill with prose and his pithy turns of phrase. The way he writes, the descriptors he uses are so unique and abstract, and yet convey his meaning so precisely that there is no room left for ambiguity.
The style and genre are difficult to capture in a single category. It is literature, because it is smart--not only smart, but wise. It carries deeper meaning, the characterizations are superb (even of the most minor characters, and even when we are given only glimpses into their lives, the way in which Mr. Harkaway describes them lends to the reader the most absolute clarity in not only who they are, but why they are, and how they will soon be).
At the same time, this book is much more than literature. It is science fiction, as the protagonist races to unravel the mysteries surrounding his grandparents and a doomsday machine from the 1950s. It is adventure, as we follow Edie Bannister through her initiation into the secrets of a World War II-era cloak-and-dagger group of Britain's most forward-thinking masters of subterfuge. Suspense keeps you hanging on every word of every battle--and Harkaway's master wit leaves you giggling with glee only a paragraph after he has brought you through very meaningful and heartfelt mourning. Sword fights, shoot-outs, and explosions are brilliantly twined with romance, childhood anecdotes, smart humor, and harried escapes, with miraculous victories and devastating defeats.
A more ill-suited narrator could easily have made chaos out of the quick pace of Harkaway's prose and his tendency towards the occasional off-shoot of narration (and typical British only-somewhat-relative-digressions into exaggeration and polite melodrama). Daniel Weyman goes beyond doing the narrative justice. His voice is perfect, his accents spot-on, and the rhythm of his speaking matches perfectly to Harkaway's prose. There is nothing lost in translation, so to speak. He reads with emotion, and carries the listener with him. He hits the passion, the raw feeling that Harkaway's narrative inspires, and easily guides one back to the quiet when heavier consideration is due.
In short, I cannot recommend this book enough--and if you like it, do definitely check out Harkaway's other works as well. He is a truly gifted author who deserves a great deal more attention than he has received.
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