Today I’m delighted to share my thoughts on The Clockwork Girl, the brand new novel by Anna Mazzola. This is the first book I’ve read by the author but the blurb and cover intrigued me, plus I’ve always heard great things about her writing so decided to make this the one. My thanks to publisher Orion for the advance copy via Netgalley. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
In the midst of an icy winter, as birds fall frozen from the sky, chambermaid Madeleine Chastel arrives at the home of the city’s celebrated clockmaker and his clever, unworldly daughter.
Madeleine is hiding a dark past, and a dangerous purpose: to discover the truth of the clockmaker’s experiments and record his every move, in exchange for her own chance of freedom.
For as children quietly vanish from the Parisian streets, rumours are swirling that the clockmaker’s intricate mechanical creations, bejewelled birds and silver spiders, are more than they seem.
And soon Madeleine fears that she has stumbled upon an even greater conspiracy. One which might reach to the very heart of Versailles…
A intoxicating story of obsession, illusion and the price of freedom.
I don’t read much historical fiction, crime or otherwise. No real reason for it, just never seem to have done so and Mandie tends to fill that space on the blog. So glad that I made the exception for The Clockwork Girl by Anna Mazzola, as I found myself lost in a mystery which was completely compelling, with an underlying sense of unease permeating the narrative from the very start. It has an air of the gothic about it, and sits somewhere between suspense, mystery and a celebration of science, set against a backdrop of 18th Century France and the court of King Louis XV.
At the start of the novel we are introduced to Madeleine, a young woman whose fate is sealed when her Mother comes to an agreement that will see her working as a chambermaid to the daughter of a celebrated clockmaker. But Dr Maximilian Reinhart is no ordinary clockmaker, and Madeleine’s role is not that of an ordinary chambermaid. Her task is to monitor the good Dr and report back to her real paymaster, as to the Dr’s behaviour. No easy task in a house where unusual behaviour is commonplace and an air of secrecy unpins everything the Dr does.
I loved getting to know Madeleine as a character. Although put in a position that is completely out of her depth, she adapts quickly and proves to be a very astute and intelligent young woman. She has not had an easy life and the more we learn about her, about how she has suffered since the death of her father, the more drawn into the story I was. She has an enquiring mind, and an understanding which belies her previous position in life working for her mother in a brothel. She has compassion for others, and although she tries to retain a distance from her new mistress, she finds herself slowly pulled into their world.
As for Madeleine’s mistress, Veronique, she wants so badly to be loved by her father, and to learn all that he knows, even though, as a women, her lot in life is not planned to be as she would desire. The two women make a great pair, even if their relationship is sometimes strained and uncomfortable. They are not only strong women in this book, a third coming in the uncompromising shape of Madame De Pompadour, King Louis’ infamous mistress. Quite where she fits in this particular mystery is something you’ll need to read to find out but her involvement is pivotal in how the story progresses.
Alongside Madeleine’s quest to uncover just what Dr Reinhart is up to, there is another mystery bubbling just below the surface, one which seems feeds into the sinister feeling that feeds through the story. Young children, some street children, some of poor means, going missing in the night, never to be heard from again. When the mystery comes a little too close to the Reinhart household for comfort, it is not only Madeleine who finds themself on a quest for truth.
As for the eponymous Clockwork Girl, this becomes the central focus of the second half of the novel. Having come to an understanding about Reinhart’s behaviour, he becomes engaged in a special project for King Louis who has a disturbing fascination with the idea of reanimation. This part of the book plays out in skin crawling fashion, with surprises for everyone as events unfurl. The are moments of real surprise, scenes that unsettle King Louis and his court, whilst leading to a real change of fate for Reinhart. All of this is leading to a tense and dramatic showdown in which all of the books remaining secrets are revealed to smile inducing effect.
Anna Mazzola has done a brilliant job of creating 18th Century France, even with perhaps a touch of artistic licence as far of some of the story goes. She has created a clear divide between the poor and the aristocracy, and the corruption at the heart of the police, the extent of which made me angry, the more I learned of how far it lead. Her characters are perfect, the women in this book showing their mettle and proving that they should ever be underestimated. I was completely drawn into this strange, sometimes uncomfortable world of Madeleine and the Reinharts, and will definitely be going back to read the author’s previous titles. Highly recommended.
About the Author
Anna Mazzola is an award-winning and critically acclaimed novelist. Her debut novel, THE UNSEEING, won an Edgar Award in the US and was nominated for the Historical Writers’ Association’s Debut Crown in the UK. Her second novel, The Story Keeper, was longlisted for the Highland Book Prize.