Beware the bees.

“At seven fifteen a.m., his bedroom slightly colder than the vacuum of space, Joshua Joseph Spork wears a longish leather coat and a pair of his father’s golfing socks.”

And thus begins a two page explanation of the acquisition of said socks. Who else could it be, but Nick Harkaway.

Yes, I haven’t posted in a while which is nothing to do with laziness and everything to do with spending two weeks in the Angelmaker universe. Harkaway is the favoured author of my friends Jonny and Kristina and it is from them that I got this book. I enjoyed Harkaway’s first novel, The Gone-Away World despite its density, and was told that this one was very similar. Not wrong.

This is the story of Joe Spork, a clockwork repairman who hides away in a quiet bit of London, hiding from his history and his father’s reputation, his father being the infamous Mathew ‘Tommy Gun’ Spork, criminal mastermind, gangster supreme and controller of the Night Market. Joe just wants a quiet, easy life. Since his father’s death, he has taken after his grandfather and decided to stick to clockwork, something he finds beautiful and fascinating. But one day he receives two strangers into his workshop – Mr Titwhistle and Mr Cummerbund. They are seeking something that they believe is in Joe’s possession. Joe doesn’t know anything, until his companion Billy Friend returns in his life with a job for him.

This is also the story of Edie Banister, the eighty-nine year old former spy who, unlike Joe, never sought out the quiet life but has found it thrust upon her. Still sprightly with all her marbles and a blind pug called Bastion for company, she is left with her memories and her concerns that the things she once fought to preserve no longer exist. But her life too is thrown into turmoil when three strangers turn up in her flat. She kills two of them and goes on the run.

The book then tells the story of the Apprehension Engine, or Angelmaker, a doomsday device that works by letting people see the truth. The inventor is Frankie Fossoyeur, who happens to be both Joe’s grandmother and Edie’s lover. Long since dead though, Frankie has left the instructions on how to operate the machine with the only people she ever trusted. More importantly, only they then have the key to turn it off.

There’s a lot happening in this novel, even without two-page tangents on socks, tommy gun mechanics or cinemas for elephants, but it all comes together so marvellously. The story flips between Joe’s struggle to stay sane in this new world where he is being stalked by black-veiled monks, and Edie’s history, her relationship with Frankie and how she served her country while disguised as James Banister. Edie has done battle with Shem Shem Tsien, South Asian dictator who is on a mission to turn himself into God by performing all the acts that God performed in the Bible. Edie and Joe become entangled as they fight to stop the Angelmaker and save humanity.

This book also features the second greatest train in all of fiction, the Ada Lovelace, a doomsday device that functions with clockwork bees, the greatest lawyer in the history of the world and a brilliant collection of criminals and lowlifes who you cannot help but love and admire. Great characters like Mercer and Polly Cradle, Sister Harriet Spork and Ted Sholt are unforgettable and, despite their many flaws and nasty habits, become instantly likeable.

The writing is dense, but once you’re into it, it does eventually begin to flow. You may just need a chart to keep track of exactly who everybody is and how they know one another, because I’m still not sure even now if I’ve got the whole thing right. Still, if you like good characters and driven plot in a believable world of unbelievable events, this is well worth your time.