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Review: Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

angel maker
angel maker
angel maker


Highlights: Silly, sarcastic and inventive, Angelmaker is Nick Harkaway’s take on the gangster-fantasy hybrid genre (modeled by, for instance, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series) and stands out for its great comic writing.



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12/ 14

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Lovably ridiculous characters, including an irresistibly ill-tempered pug. Fantastic lines ranging from the simile “a noise like an accordion landing in a rice pudding” to (on the occasion of the main character escaping a nunnery) “he should make it [out] before the place is awash with wimples and he is sternly ejected for possession of external genitals and an unsanctified soul.”


The harebrained plot gets a little bit out of hand as the book races toward an ending.

Posted April 8, 2013 by

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In Nick Harkaway’s novel Angelmaker, lovable antihero Joe Spork is the grandson of a clockmaker and son of a mobster criminal – and in this unlikely caper he ends up taking after them both. His quiet life as a restorer of antique clocks is disrupted when he gets mixed up in the search for the secrets of the Apprehension Engine, a sort of apocalypse machine that is meant to dispense truth and godlike knowledge, but in reality seems only to release menacing swarms of golden bees.

In a series of flashbacks we learn that Spork’s grandmother, Frankie Fossoyeur, designed the machine in the 1930s at the behest of evil despot Shem Shem Tsien. The other main character, 89-year-old Edie Banister, was the spy who infiltrated Tsien’s court and fell in love with Frankie, and her reminiscences of Second World War espionage provide an intriguing counterpoint to Joe Spork’s mishaps in modern London.

Nick Harkaway. Photo by Tom Coates [Tecoates at en.wikipedia]

Nick Harkaway. Photo by Tom Coates [Tecoates at en.wikipedia]

Even in her old age Edie’s still a badass, especially as aided by her grumpy and halitotic pug Bastion, who packs a mean bite with just one tooth and pink marbles for eyes. Along with a host of quirky side characters, Joe and Edie work to limit the damages caused by the Apprehension Engine before it can be shut down for good.

Spork is a delightfully hapless character, but his transformation into a tough guy is a mite far-fetched, such that his role as protagonist becomes less convincing in the last 100 pages or so. Nevertheless, this is a cracking romp of a read, however daft, and makes for a gentle introduction to the steampunk genre. Nick Harkaway is a creative comic force to be reckoned with.

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Rebecca Foster

An American in London, library assistant by day, and lover of all things bookish. I'm also a literature programming team volunteer and guest blogger for Greenbelt arts festival, and a reviewer for We Love This Book's website. I read everything from theology to popular science, but some favorite genres are contemporary literary fiction, biography and memoir, historical fiction (especially Victorian-set), graphic novels, foodie lit and nature writing.

One Comment


    This book has been on my to-read list for awhile and I’ve been back and forth on whether to pick it up. I love The Dresden Files and Jim Butcher is in my list of top 10 authors, so if it fits into that genre I’m all for giving it a try. Thanks for the review, it convinced me to go ahead and read it!

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