*I received a free ARC of this book, with thanks to the author, Doubleday – Random House UK and Anne Cater of Random Things Blog Tours. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: Zachary Cloudesley is gifted in a remarkable way, beyond even his own understanding. But not all gifts are a blessing…
Leadenhall Street, London, 1754.
Raised amongst the cogs and springs of his father’s workshop, Zachary Cloudesley has grown up surrounded by strange and enchanting clockwork automata. He is a happy child, beloved by his father Abel and the workmen who help bring his father’s creations to life.
He is also the bearer of an extraordinary gift; at the touch of a hand, Zachary can see into the hearts and minds of the people he meets.
But then a near-fatal accident will take Zachary away from the workshop and his family.
His father will have to make a journey to Constantinople that he will never return from.
And years later, only Zachary can find out what happened.
A beautifully crafted historical mystery bursting with wonderfully realised characters, a sense of fizzing energy that brims over every page and immersive storytelling that will take the reader from 18th century London, across Europe and, finally, to the bustling city of Constantinople.
Surprisingly, given the title, the main focus of this book isn’t really Zachary at all – his first word only comes about 20% into the story. Instead this is a found-family story that follows Zachary’s father, Abel; his wet nurse, Grace Morley and her daughter, Leonora; his great-aunt, Frances; Tom, apprentice clockmaker; manservant, Samuels and more. And it didn’t take me long to be thoroughly invested in each and every one of them!
Similarly, Zachary’s ‘gift’ is really secondary to the main plot of betrayals, missteps, regret and loving sacrifice, spanning a lifetime and several countries. The tone gradually moves from Dickensian to Arabian Nights fairy-tale, as the action moves from London to Constantinople, threaded with a steampunk-style aesthetic throughout thanks to the clockwork automata.
While expansive and ambitious in tone, plot and setting, the story sticks closely to its small cast of diverse characters and their very personal experiences and struggles, allowing the reader to become an intimate part of the unusual, endearing family. And said characters are placed in a setting that feels authentic and rich in detail; it is very clear that the author has done extensive research in both time and place.
After such a rich, slow layering of story, I did find the ending a little bit unsatisfying, partly because there was no real ‘climax’ to events, and partly because I simply didn’t want the story to end. I could happily read another whole book just about Samuels, the distinctive manservant and my favourite character!
This is a superbly crafted story, as intricate and magical as the clockwork automatons that Abel and Tom produce, and as warm-hearted as Zachary himself – a feature that outweighed his clear sight, in my opinion. Magical realism fans who love unique characters and detailed historical settings will enjoy this impressive debut.
‘Stop!‘ a voice commands, high and clear.– Sean Lusk, The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley
‘Stop,’ it says again, more quietly. But it is not Abel’s voice that Frances hears, nor is it Mrs Morley’s.
Mrs Morley, jolted into alarm, says, ‘Oh no, it cannot be,’ her tone conveying the preternatural character of what they have just heard.
Slowly, one by one, they turn to gaze in baffled awe at the infant still held in Frances’s arms.
About the author:
Sean Lusk is an award winning short story writer, winner of the Manchester Fiction Prize and the Fish Short Story Prize. He has lived in Greece, Pakistan and Egypt and now lives in the Scottish Highlands. The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley is his first novel.
You can find him at www.seanlusk.com or on Twitter @seanlusk1.
The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley is available on Amazon right now!
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