Title – The Clockwork Girl
Author – Anna Mazzola
Published – 3 March 2022
Genre – Historical fiction
I throughly enjoyed Anna’s two previous novels and couldn’t resist requesting the NetGalley of her next title, due out in 2022.
Set in Paris 1750, the opening sees Madeleine, the daughter of a brothel owner, sent under duress to work as a chambermaid as cover for her real task – to spy on Dr Reinhart, an eccentric clockmaker. Madeleine’s task is to befriend his daughter, Veronique, and determine if there’s any truth to rumours of shady goings on.
I found it such an intriguing read because I really had no idea where the story was going. It’s an odd household and the hints of something untoward happening behind closed doors set up the tension from early on. While the house is a showcase for Dr Reinhart’s clocks that’s not his only skill and Madeleine is unnerved by his experiments in automata, although it’s for this skill that those in power seek him out. Veronique is an unusual girl for the period, she has ambitions to follow the same career as her father at a time when such things seem impossible and having been sequestered away in a convent she has a certain nativity about her. In the dark and ominous house the two young women strike up a tentative friendship but they are both guarded, both hiding dark secrets.
There is a small aside to the main plot after some young children disappear but this becomes more and more intrinsic to the story as children continue to disappear and the people become whipped up into a frenzy, convinced that this is all part of a plot by the police or a prince stealing them for nefarious purposes.
Against this backdrop Madeleine is forced to pursue her undercover investigations against her will and the clockmaker is pressured to deliver something astounding to Versailles.
I can’t recall that I’ve read a book set in this location and period before and the writing is very evocative. It’s obviously a time and place of huge contrasts (despite the fact that apparently opulent Versailles doesn’t smell as good as it looks!) with hunger and death on the streets of Paris for the less fortunate against the glittering decadence of Versailles. I thought that the opening was reminiscent of The Miniaturist, in the same way that Nella arrives at her new home and Madeleine has to step into the unknown in her new role.
This was a gripping and atmospheric read full of tension, mystery and secrets. The main characters are two strong-willed and likeable young women, prepared to make the most of what fate has dealt them. The climax had some disconcerting moments and I really was completely baffled right up to the end.
The cover looks gorgeous, I can’t wait to see it in my local bookshop and treat myself to a physical copy!
Many thanks to the publisher for the Netgalley.