four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
58-May-June-2012
user_rating: 
0

744652.pngAs the son of legendary espionage writer John le Carré, Nick Harkaway was immersed in the craft of storytelling from an early age. Harkaway’s debut, The Gone-Away World (2008), was a tour de force of cross-genre mayhem. In Angelmaker, the author catapults an unlikely hero into a world on the brink of apocalypse.

The Story: A mild-mannered master clock repairer with a name straight out of a Dickens novel, Joe Spork is torn between two worlds: that of his father, the notorious London underworld figure, Mathew "Tommy Gun" Spork, and the more mundane reality defined by his attention to very small objects. Joe’s placid life changes, though, when he accepts a commission from Edie Banister, a charming old lady who isn’t what she seems to be; Joe unwittingly repairs a broken doomsday device, potentially unleashing havoc on the world. Caught up with a cadre of aging spies, a mad scientist, a perfectly pulpy villain, a group of craftsmen-warrior-monks, and, of course, the irresistible love interest, Polly Cradle, Joe, armed with a purpose and bound to get the girl (priorities!), sets out to save the world.
Knopf. 496 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780307595959

Barnes and Noble Review 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[Angelmaker] fills our mundane globe with such a raft of hidden marvels and oddities that it transforms the known, miracle-devoid terrain into a marvelous and dangerous wonderland. … Dashing through the propulsive, hundred-page climax of this gloriously uninhibited romp of a novel, it dawned on me that I had just read the best episode of The Avengers never filmed." Paul Di Filippo

Wired.com 4.5 of 5 Stars
"On occasion … I come across books which are simply filled with sentences that are so well-crafted that I want to savor them. Angelmaker is like a Quentin Tarantino movie written by Neil Gaiman: larger-than-life characters, dry British humor, a heavy dose of the weird, and a bit macabre; horrendous things wrapped up in gorgeous language." Jonathan Liu

Telegraph (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"Angelmaker is an intricate and brilliant piece of escapism, tipping its hat to the twisting plots of John Buchan and H. Rider Haggard, the goggles-and-gauntlets Victoriana of the steampunk movement and the labyrinthine secret Londons of Peter Ackroyd and Iain Sinclair, while maintaining an originality, humour and verve all its author’s own. … Gleefully nostalgic and firmly modern, hand-on-heart and tongue-in-cheek, this is as far as it could be from the wearied tropes that dominate so much of fantasy and SF." Tim Martin

Tor 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s hard to put your finger on exactly why Angelmaker is one of the year’s best books, but then, it’s hard to put your finger on much of anything in Angelmaker, because it’s always in flux. … Though the author’s roving eye remains intact, and those subjects its alights upon feel as delightful and insightful as ever, Harkaway has honed this incomparable trick of his to a filigree so fine that it appears nearly invisible; a filament of woven gold—impossible, yet a fact for all that—which runs through Angelmaker from the fanciful first to the beloved last." Niall Alexander

Columbus Dispatch 4 of 5 Stars
"Part science fiction, part philosophical exploration, part steam-punk fantasy and part lovingly realistic description of contemporary London, it pays tribute to Charles Dickens in its quirky names and frequent coincidences, and to pulp fiction in its semi-clad damsels and grisly scenes of torture. … Angelmaker isn’t for the squeamish or for those who balk at being confused." Margaret Quamme

Slate 4 of 5 Stars
"Harkaway isn’t simply a funny writer; he adroitly uses humor to slide us gently into a given scene or character, and then invites us to settle in and root around a bit, the way you wiggle your toes once you’ve slipped on a comfortable boot. … In passage after passage, Angelmaker opens up, making room for the reader, until we aren’t merely empathizing with Joe Spork’s plight but feeling it keenly." Glen Weldon

Critical Summary

Nick Harkaway has carved out his own identity in just two novels, his writing already compared to postmodern and science fiction luminaries such as Thomas Pynchon, Tom Robbins, Richard Brautigan, Robert Coover, and Michael Chabon. Harkaway’s engaging characters, good humor, and a passion for story drive "500 pages of chases, subterfuges and double-crosses that sometimes resemble Count of Monte Cristo-era Dumas seen through the prism of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" (Telegraph). Even better received than Harkaway’s publicized debut, The Gone-Away World, this latest effort hits its stride in the climactic last quarter, rushing headlong to a conclusion that will have the author’s growing fan base shouting for more. Look for multiple mentions of Angelmaker on end-of-the-year lists—and hope that Harkaway doesn’t wait another four years to publish his next novel.