?!?!??!!? = 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.