Paris, 1750. In the midst of winter, as birds fall frozen from the sky, a new maid arrives at the home of a celebrated clockmaker and his clever, unworldly daughter. But rumours are stirring that Reinhart’s uncanny mechanical creations – bejewelled birds, silver spiders – are more than mere automata. That they might defy the laws of nature, perhaps even at the expense of the living…
But 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.
Meanwhile, in the streets, children are quietly disappearing – and Madeleine comes to fear that she has stumbled upon a greater conspiracy. One which might reach to the heart of Versailles…
Hi and welcome to my review of The Clockwork Girl!
The year is 1750 and we’re taken to Paris, not quite the City of Light we might expect, but rather a dank, dark, smelly city where the lowest classes fight to survive. And things are getting worse every day, with the poorest children being taken from the streets, vanishing. Anna Mazzola took this historical fact and ran with it, giving it her own shocking twist.
The Clockwork Girl is told from three perspectives, giving a voice to three sections of the French population in the 18th century: the poor (Madeleine), the bourgeoisie (Véronique) and the filthy rich (Jeanne). Three women who seemingly have nothing in common, but who are more alike than they know.
Véronique is the clockmaker’s daughter, seventeen, just home from the convent where she grew up, lonely and eager to reconnect with her father, hoping against hope (it’s the 18th century after all) that he’ll make her a full-blown apprentice. Madeleine, who grew up in a brothel, is a mouche for the police, a fly on the wall, a spy sent into the clockmaker’s home to find out if what he’s doing is above board and not dangerous. Jeanne came from rather humble beginnings but is now the King’s mistress, better known as the Marquise de Pompadour.
Telling a story from the POV of one of the more famous women in French history is a rather bold move if you ask me, but it pays off, bigtime. I love how actual historical figures are part of the cast, their lives written seamlessly into their fictional counterparts’ lives, from the Lieutenant General of Police to King Louis XV himself. All this makes The Clockwork Girl a very lush historical tale.
For the most part I would say The Clockwork Girl is a character-driven slowburner. It’s these three women that keep the story and I was captivated by their intertwining lives, their secrets and intrigue. And there is also quite a bit of mystery involved. What is the clockmaker up to, are his secret activities quite as unsavoury as the police seem to think?
The last thirty or so percent is very much plot-driven, with things coming to a head and leading to a very satisfying conclusion, which I can tell you nothing about for obvious reasons. All I can say is that I was turning the pages frantically and didn’t quite know which way was up.
With its vivid writing, its enticing mysteries and its three fascinating narrators, The Clockwork Girl transported me to another time and place and I enjoyed my stay tremendously (despite the fact that I could almost smell all the disgusting smells and feel the grime on my fingers). I would happily recommend it to any and all fans of historical fiction.
Massive thanks to Orion and NetGalley for the eARC. All opinions are my own.