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The Emperor Of All Things by Paul Witcover REVIEW

BOOK REVIEW Tick, tock, watch that clock…

The Emperor Of All Things by Paul Witcover book review.

Invoking the work of Philip Pullman, Susanna Clarke, Neal Stephenson and Justin Cronin, the cover of the proof for American author Paul Witcover’s latest novel certainly doesn’t lack for confidence. And while it would be difficult for any book entirely to live up to such hype, there’s much within its pages to explain the copywriter’s excitement.

At the novel’s centre lies Daniel Quare, a Regulator with the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, a guild that jealously guards the secrets of making timepieces. More than this, they’re concerned with the study of time and its effects on humanity. In Witcover’s vision of an alternate-history 18th century, there are some decidedly eldritch and dangerous clocks in circulation.

It’s in the process of procuring and studying one such timepiece at the behest of his mentor, Master Magnus, that Quare is dragged into an increasingly fantastical series of adventures. Personal flying devices, a vicious murder that doesn’t actually result in death and a mysterious masked thief all feature as Witcover conjures what you might call an enlightenment-punk vision of England, before taking detours to the snowy Alps, subterranean
London and the utterly fantastic.

Those who want fast-moving entertainment, be warned: without skimping too much on setpieces, Witcover is a writer who takes the time to build mood and atmosphere. Which is paradoxical, considering that you might criticise him for not anchoring the role of horology in the real-life 18th century more explicitly as a way to give his work more resonance. A job for the sequel he’s currently writing?

Jonathan Wright

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