The Lost Future of Pepperharrow: Left me wanting

The Lost Future of Pepperharrow by Natasha PulleyThe Lost Future of Pepperharrow by Natasha Pulley

The Lost Future of Pepperharrow by Natasha PulleyI found Natasha Pulley’s The Watchmaker of Filigree Street entirely charming even if I didn’t fall wholly in love with it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the same positive response to the sequel, The Lost Future of Pepperharrow (2020), which felt meandering and surprisingly flat to me, despite some solid moments.

It’s half a decade after the events of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, and after a brief time in Russia and London, Pulley shifts the vast majority of her story to Japan in the late 1800s (with flashbacks to earlier times in the country). Keita Mori, clockmaker and clairvoyant who can “remember” possible futures, is back, as is his lover Thaniel Steepleton and their adopted daughter Six, all three of them ending up in Mori’s aristocratic estate in Tokyo. Also there, much to Thaniel’s surprise, is Mori’s wife Takiko Pepperharrow, along with Kiyotaka Kuroda, a militarist old friend (and possibly current enemy) of Mori’s about to become an imperialist Prime Minister bent on expansion via conquest. As Mori uses his talent to manipulate people and events to prevent something terrible happening, Thaniel, in his role as English diplomat, has to deal with the strange preponderance of ghosts being reported in the British embassy. Meanwhile, strange experiments of some sort are taking place in a labor camp up in the frozen north.

As noted, there are several strong elements in The Lost Future of Pepperharrow. One is the lovingly charming and heart-warming relationship between the two main characters and their daughter. Another is the complicated way characters and the reader view Mori, particularly in how he uses his power. Serious questions arise about the morality of ends versus the means, of the ethics of manipulation, and I quite liked how the reader often didn’t feel on sure ground with regard to how to view him or with regard to how the characters might shift in their own attitudes, choosing perhaps to aid his efforts or, just as likely, thwart them. The greyness of all this was probably my favorite element of the novel.

Unfortunately, the positives were, for me, either outweighed or at least equally balanced by the negatives. One is that the book felt far too long. Nearly 500 pages, it easily could have lost a hundred of those and perhaps more. Pacing was up and down, and I felt the story bogged down in several places. Another issue, a larger one for me, is that outside of the fathers-daughter relationship, I never felt emotionally engaged with any of the relationships, a shift from how I reacted to the first novel. I was being told people cared about each other deeply, but never felt it in my gut or heart. Somewhat connected, while there were some interesting twists (some of which readers may see coming), I finished the book feeling it was more a carefully calculated bit of plotting to set up turns and twists rather than a story. Of course, those who like that sort of thing will certainly enjoy it more.
In the end, though, for me The Lost Future of Pepperharrow was a disappointment, lacking the warmth, depth of characterization, and charm that so drew me into its predecessor.

Published in February 2020. Natasha Pulley’s Watchmaker of Filigree Street captivated readers with its charming blend of historical fiction, fantasy, and steampunk. Now, Pulley revisits her beloved characters in a sequel that sweeps readers off to Japan in the 1880s, where nationalism is on the rise and ghosts roam the streets. 1888. Five years after they met in The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, Thaniel Steepleton, an unassuming translator, and Keita Mori, the watchmaker who remembers the future, are traveling to Japan. Thaniel has received an unexpected posting to the British legation in Tokyo, and Mori has business that is taking him to Yokohama. Thaniel’s brief is odd: the legation staff have been seeing ghosts, and Thaniel’s first task is to find out what’s really going on. But while staying with Mori, he starts to experience ghostly happenings himself. For reasons Mori won’t–or can’t–share, he is frightened. Then he vanishes. Meanwhile, something strange is happening in a frozen labor camp in Northern Japan. Takiko Pepperharrow, an old friend of Mori’s, must investigate. As the weather turns bizarrely electrical and ghosts haunt the country from Tokyo to Aokigahara forest, Thaniel grows convinced that it all has something to do with Mori’s disappearance–and that Mori may be in serious danger. 

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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2 comments

  1. For me, she peaked with Watchmaker.

  2. I love the cover art.

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