Welcome to 1758, a tumultuous time in English history, a time of war and invasion fears. Also a time of reason and Enlightenment, as knowledge blossomed. And a time of magic, the unexplained, fearsome dragons and treacherous clockmakers. Hang on, something’s not quite right there, this is not the 1758 I’ve read about in history books. In The Emperor of All Things time is taking a different turn.
We begin in an attic overflowing with timepieces, all slightly out of sync with each other, and there is a hint of alchemy around the room. A curious mouse runs amongst the objects, a grey-clad thief slips silently through the window and an elegantly-dressed gentleman emerges from within a clock. A battle of wits turns quickly into one of swords and pistols, as Lord Wichcote defends his property against the infamous Grimalkin. But, Grimalkin gets the prize and escapes, only to have it stolen by yet another intent on owning it.
We’re quickly led to the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, where Daniel Quare is a journeyman and Regulator. He is part of the Most Secret and Exalted Order of Regulators, whose mission it is to enforce standards of timepieces whilst searching for technological innovations to appropriate in the name of the King. It is Quare who wrests the prized watch from Grimalkin, but despite his success he is still in the unenviable position of having to explain himself to his two masters. Quare’s position with the company is made very difficult by his split loyalties. Grandmaster Wolfe is the head of the Company, and has been for decades. He is a conventional man, doing things the Company way. Master Magnus is an innovator who works amongst chaos and cats. Quare’s sensibilities are with Magnus, but he tries to please both. The successful completion of his mission hasn’t left either man completely satisfied, and he seems to have fallen foul of Magnus’ servant too.
Not to worry, things are about to get much much worse for Quare. It’s probable he wishes he had never come across the thin silver Hunter pocketwatch, with strange black symbols around the dial. That watch holds dangerous secrets, which might be better left unlocked. It exerts a strong influence though, drawing people to it, people that would kill to have it in their possession. It is quickly apparent that Quare should be very cautious about who he trusts. The very city itself holds mysteries and surprises, let alone characters such as Grimalkin.
The Emperor of All Things is split into three parts. The first is set in London, with the watch, and Quare, and plenty of sword-fighting action. The second part narrates a different, older story, about an obsession, a monumental clocktower, and a town cut off from the rest of the world. Here the supernatural buzzes just out of view, if you’re lucky. I wouldn’t say it exactly makes everything clearer, but this tale starts to explain just what it is that is being meddled with. The last section throws you back to London, and what must be done to avert disaster. The end is not The End, rather a pause to let the reader catch their breath in readiness for the second book.
I was utterly baffled at times about what was going on, but not in a bad way. I really enjoyed both parts of the story. The swashbuckling swordplay and unfamiliar/familiar London were great fun, and the slowly building menace of the cut off town was creepily good. There are some moments of terror along the way, and the price of owning the watch is very high indeed. This is Book 1 of ‘The Productions of Time’, and I wish I had Book 2 to hand because we are left hanging at the end. I’m not sure when the sequel is due for publication, but sooner rather than later is my preference.
Thank you to Bantam Press for sending me a copy of this handsome book to review. It’s available now in Hardback.