Review of Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

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I’m not a fan of these graphic cover designs. Presumably this is supposed to be the Anglemaker device?

Angelmaker by Nick Haraway. ★★

Angelmaker was okay. There were segments of it that I liked, and at its best points it reminded me of Douglas Adam’s books. However, there were a number of elements that I found problematic, and it had some story failures in general.

From the back blurb: “Joe Spork spends his days fixing antique clocks. The son of infamous London criminal Mathew “Tommy Gun” Spork, he has turned his back on his family’s mobster history and aims to live a quiet life. That orderly existence is suddenly upended when Joe activates a particularly unusual clockwork mechanism. His client, Edie Banister, is more than the kindly old lady she appears to be—she’s a retired international secret agent. And the device? It’s a 1950s doomsday machine.

Having triggered it, Joe now faces the wrath of both the British government and a diabolical South Asian dictator who is also Edie’s old arch-nemesis. On the upside, Joe’s got a girl: a bold receptionist named Polly whose smarts, savvy and sex appeal may be just what he needs. With Joe’s once-quiet world suddenly overrun by mad monks, psychopathic serial killers, scientific geniuses 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 abandoned years ago and pick up his father’s old gun . . .”

From the blurb, I got the impression that Edie would be the female lead, which she was for the beginning of the book. And Edie was awesome, both in the current timelines and in the flashback to her youthful adventures. A queer, ass-kicking, secret agent woman? How much cooler can you get!

However, don’t pick this book up this book because of Edie. While she’s prominent in the beginning, this is ultimately Joe’s story. SPOILER A fact emphasized by Edie dying about a hundred pages before the end of the book. This really irks me. It feels like her story wasn’t completed, and it’s a troubling situation when the queer woman dies so the straight man can be the hero. END OF SPOILER.

There were other aspects of the book that troubled me, including the evil Shem Shem Tsien. White British guy fighting the evil (non-white) foreigner? This has some icky implications.

Then there’s Polly. Don’t be fooled into thinking she’s anyone important. She’s never much more than sexy love interest. Seriously, her introduction is Joe describing how erotic her toes are. There’s one point where she says something along the lines of “I’m not just your sidekick” but she never does anything to back this up.

Then there’s Joe’s character arc. Joe spends his life trying to avoid being his father Matthew by idealizing and taking after his clock maker grandfather, Daniel. Early on it’s clear that Joe needs to stop worrying about Daniel and Matthew and just be Joe. The book’s moving in this direction, but ultimately Joe starts imitating Matthew instead of Daniel! He becomes Crazy Joe Spork, a bad ass gangster! How is this character development? He’s still not being his own person!

The plot itself was vague, and there wasn’t as much action as you’d think from the blurb. Ultimately, it was the characters who were the failing point. That and an overly descriptive narration style.

I really can’t think who I’d recommend this one to.

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