?!?!??!!? = my feelings towards this book… still! And it’s been almost two weeks since I finished it. It’s a book I just can’t decide whether or not I liked! There were definitely aspects that I loved, and other aspects that I did not. At the end of the day, the love story felt extremely strange and somewhat contrived… I think I’m going
3/5, but this was one of those books that was very close to swinging either up or down a step. Actually, after finishing the review, I realize that I actually am going 2/5… see how easily it swung a step down??
The home office telegraphy department always smelled of tea.
So begins our tale, set in 1883 London, possibly in some kind of alternate universe…?? Our story centers around Thaniel (short of Nathaniel), who works as a clerk in the above-mentioned home office telegraphy department (and who is also to blame for that smell of tea). Thaniel is quiet, hardworking, and reliable. In the second chapter we are told
He [Thaniel] almost said that he wasn’t so much older than all the rest of them, then saw that it wouldn’t have been fair. It didn’t matter how much older. He was older; even if they had all been the same age, he would still have been older.
I had a lot of empathy for Thaniel, as I’ve always been the oldest everywhere I go, too. He has a strong sense of responsibility, sending home money to his widowed sister and her family – setting aside his own dreams and ambitions to do so.
This story unwound slowly. Nothing was rushed – in many ways, the narration felt like a watch ticking, steady and rhythmical. The language is lovely, and some of the descriptive passages are wonderfully immersive. Despite the (relatively) slow pace, I was drawn into narrative. (It was an especially nice change of pace after the heart-pounding race through Academ’s Fury!) However, I started to get a bit confused about that very narrative, as Pulley herself didn’t really seem to know which story she wanted to write. There’s kind of this thing with a bombing, and kind of this thing with the watch, and kind of this thing with a girl, but it was all quite meandery, and I really had no idea where Pulley was going half the time, and I wasn’t sure she did, either. The ending was this sudden rush of chaos and action that was somewhat, but not satisfactorily, explained.
I’m really struggling to write this review without spoilers, as a great deal of this story’s charm lies in that gentle unwinding. The thing is, my biggest issue with this book centers around a pretty big spoiler. So I’ll put it below the cut, because I simply cannot write this review without a mini-rant explaining why this book frequently annoyed the bejeebers out of me.
Then there were other random moments that I found myself confused. Tell me, my British friends, in your alphabet, does ‘M’ come directly before ‘N’, or someplace after?
He stood slowly and opened the drawer for N-R, which was dominated by Nakanos and Nakamuras. There were only two people whose name was Mori.
That paragraph had me singing the alphabet song repeatedly. It caused me to completely doubt everything I’ve ever known about the placement of the letter M in the alphabet. L-M-N-O-P, right?? AM I right?! M wouldn’t be in the N-R drawer, would it?? These are not rhetorical questions, people. I have stared at this paragraph so many times since I first read it!
The main female character (more about her in the spoiler section) made basically no sense, and I really didn’t appreciate the way that she thought she was incredibly intelligent and brilliant, that everyone else was stupid, and that all other women were just weak and dumb. She doesn’t have a single positive thing to say about a single other female, is sarcastic and cutting towards the suffragist movement, and overall the introduction of her character should have been a huge red flag to me that, at the time, I glossed over. Whoops.
While I liked a lot of the writing, the characterization seemed somewhat weak, as there were multiple times that I was quite surprised or confused by someone’s actions. This made it really hard to get into the story, as I never really felt like I was getting to know real people.
All in all, what I saw as pitfalls in the plot were not overcome by the lovely language or intriguing setting. An all-right tale for a one-time read, but not something I would want to read again, or that inspires me to see if Pulley has written any other books.
Okay. So. Someone mysteriously leaves a watch in Thaniel’s room very early in the story. He doesn’t know where it’s come from or who left it. A bomb threat is made by the rebel Irish. No bombs explode on the given day, and everyone goes to the bar after work in relief, except that’s when the bomb goes off across the street. Just before the bomb goes off, Thaniel’s watch sounds an alarm and he goes outside and isn’t hit by the bomb shrapnel at all. Through the course of the story, people in the government suspect Mori of making these bombs, and a friend of Thaniel’s who works for whichever department would be inspecting this (can’t remember what it’s called) suggests that Thaniel continues to befriend Mori and see what he can discover. Mori conveniently has a room to let, and Thaniel moves in.
As time goes on, we come to find out that Mori can “remember” the future. So, for instance, he speaks English very well because he learns English in his future. However, this is where things get murky. Mori is, in my mind, incredibly manipulative. And also apparently gay?? Because suddenly at the end of the book he and Thaniel are all like, “OMG we’re in love!” !??! Huh? So all of a sudden, everything that has happened in this entire book felt really, really creepy to me because Mori has been reading the future and then using/changing it to more or less force Thaniel into becoming his boyfriend…??? Plus, their relationship never felt remotely romantic to me up until this point, so I was really blindsided by the whole gay thing. Just. What. Why. What just happened. It was weird. PLUS we get the impression that Thaniel is only in his early-20’s, and are clearly told that Mori is almost 40 (his date of birth is given in that same passage with the “M now comes after N” thing)… creepy much??? Weird old guy is a total creeper who rearranges time so he can make sure this person who is twenty years younger than him will become his lover?? Ugh.
Meantime, there’s this other completely random thing with this girl who is, of course, incredibly intelligent and yearns for higher education and wants to become a scientist, because obvs only stupid fluff girls want to do boring things like get married and have children; REAL women, even in 1883, want to become scientists. Whatever. Anyway, OF COURSE she has a stupid, overbearing father who doesn’t understand her DREAMS so the only way she can get money/her own house is by getting married and then her dad will give her husband this stuff for her dowry. Blah blah blah series of events that make very little sense, Thaniel and the chick magically meet each other, chick is weirdly fascinated by Thaniel and tells him her whole life story for no reason, Thaniel agrees to a marriage of convenience because then he will get money to take care of his nephews, yadda yadda.
All this is just to bring us to the end so I can complain about how it makes very little sense. The chick, whose name is Grace (I just looked it up) doesn’t like Mori, has never liked Mori, and Mori doesn’t like Grace. (Of course, later we find out it’s because Mori is in love with Thaniel. Again: What. Even.) Grace tries to tell Thaniel that Mori is manipulating Thaniel, which he totally is! But Thaniel is like, “What?! Mori would never do such a thing! He’s this sad, lonely man who just wants a friend!” Meanwhile, Mori changes his English accent and it doesn’t match Thaniel’s any more because something along the lines of “before I was going to learn English from you, but now we won’t really see each other…” and other crap lines like that that are of course not remotely manipulative! So then Grace comes up with this crazy plan about building a bomb and confusing Mori and leads him on this weird chase all over town and then sets off this bomb that legit could have killed a bunch of people and it’s only by a weird coincidence that it doesn’t, and her excuse is –
“I never meant to hurt him … I intended for there to be an explosion, that’s all – just something dangerous. … I thought that if you believed I’d almost been killed in a way he could have prevented, then you would tell him to leave us alone. All I want is for him to leave us alone.”
Say WHAT!? “Oh I thought I’d set off a bomb in a very crowded location just because I wanted to be left alone.” What the heck.
So in the end, Thaniel stays with Mori, and the relationship feels incredibly bad to me, and I’m not talking about the gay thing (which is stupid, not because they’re gay, but kind of, just because them being gay didn’t make any sense in the context of this story), but the fact that Mori has lied, stretched the truth, possibly murdered people, and been incredibly manipulative this whole entire time. Mori holds all the cards. He told Thaniel all sorts of lies, making himself (Mori) out to be this sad, lonely, broken man, just so he could basically guilt-trip Thaniel into staying with him instead of going with Grace. Call me crazy, but that doesn’t sound like the foundation for a healthy relationship.
I guess I basically found Mori to be creepy and a little sadistic, and didn’t like that he ended up in complete control of Thaniel’s life. And at the end of this review, I was initially going 3/5, but have dropped to 2/5 because I’m just sitting here remembering how annoyed I was that Pulley wasn’t keeping things slightly confusing so she could pull it all together in the end, but just because she apparently didn’t feel like getting this story a little better organized.