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meganbaxter

meganbaxter

I'm a grad student, an avid reader, a huge nerd, fervent roleplayer, wife, cat lover, tea snob, and obsessive keeper of lists.
Angelmaker - Nick Harkaway This is the second book I ever read on a Kindle. (The first was Deathless, but this digression seemed more at home here.) A friend very kindly lent me one of hers when I was on a trip last week, so I didn't have to deal with the extra weight that comes with packing a book for every day I'd be gone. And I am very grateful for the loan, not least for the great array of books she had on the Kindle, and which I've had great fun perusing.

But the actual experience of reading on a Kindle? Give me a book any day. (Except if I'm travelling. And, in this case, I'll read more off it, because there are books on there I want to read, and our local library is not great at SF/F. So, you know, I'm not dogmatic about it.)

But I missed the materiality of books so keenly while I was using the Kindle. It seems right that Ulysses has a different physical presence than does a slim little book like The Nothing That Is. My arm should be a little achy after I'm done a bout with it. It seems fitting. And the font, and the type size, and the smell - the Kindle flattens all that out. It makes what was once a varied experience into a consistent one. It's not hard to read a book on the Kindle, but I missed seeing the cover of the book, the weight of the book, the feel.

And it drove me crazy that it was difficult or impossible to find the page where the publication date was listed, which in one case led me to start a series in the middle because I could not figure out which book came first. It also makes it much more difficult to flip back a few pages to check on something you didn't quite catch the first time.

The experience isn't bad, but I came out of it both grateful for having had it for travelling, and glad to pick up a real book again when I got home.

So, what does this have to do with Angelmaker, other than that this was one of the first books I read on it? More than you might think. One of the threads running through this book is individual craftsmanship against mass production. The Ruskinite Order of Monks, dedicated at one point to creating machines of beauty that were literally unique, that were handcrafted, and made with love and care and attention, have been perverted, and are now monstrous echoes of what they once were.

This is a hard book to describe. It is rollicking, it is tense. It slips back and forth in time. Some of the book relates the adventures of the now almost-nonagenarian spy Edie, back in World War II, when she was part of an elite group, and was responsible for liberating a brilliant female scientist from the clutches of the Opium Khan, who had employed her to make a doomsday device. To protect the scientist, with whom she forms a very personal connection, she has to fight the Opium Khan all through Europe, time and time again.

In the present, Edie has set said doomsday device running, with the best of intentions, and has used Joe Spork, clockmaker, as her cat's-paw setting it in motion. Soon, little gold bees are flying around the globe, awakening other gold bees, and the governments of the world are fucking terrified. Joe is swept up in this, taken into custody by a branch of the government not beholden to any laws, which feels justified in taking any measures to do whatever they bloody well like.

But Joe is not just a mild-mannered clockmaker. Somewhere deep inside him sleeps the Joe who learned at the feet of his stylish gangster father, Mathew, who waged a spree with panache across Europe. Joe learned more than he knows, and with Polly, a supervillain in her own right by his side, and Edie, and Edie's absolutely wonderful blind dog Bastion by his side, he might just take the fight to them.

I am be a sucker for fictional dogs and cats, when they're written well. I adore Bastion.

This book is strange and funny and spooky and rollicking and serious. It uses the modern security state as the tool of Joe's enemies, and the ways in which government is perverted to serve the desires of whoever is pulling the strings is truly frightening.

And I have a weak spot for calls to arms, so when Joe calls on all the old criminals of London to come together for one huge assault, one with some derring-do, a few tears came to my eyes.

This book is crazy. It is all over the place. And yet it hangs together, better than I thought Harkaway's previous book The Gone Away World did. I enjoyed The Gone Away World even though I didn't think the story, in the end, quite jelled. This one did, and I loved it.

Even though I read it on the Kindle. And felt vaguely guilty, because this book, of all books, deserves the physical presence that print could give it.