Dive into steam-punk Japan with Natasha Pulley’s highly anticipated sequel, The Lost Future of Pepperharrow. Favourite characters return for an exciting, daring adventure, which perfectly blends the worlds of science and mythology. New additions help keep the story fresh, and Pulley’s decision to shift the setting to some lesser-known areas of Japan allows for some beautiful passages within the novel, too. Another engrossing and enchanting story from Pulley, who knows how to delight readers with her excellent ability of scene-setting and strong character voices.
Though the connection to Japan is strong in The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, for this next instalment, Pulley has chosen to set the majority of the narrative in the country itself, immediately allowing for exploration into a variety of environments and characters. Pulley spent time in Japan herself, and this love and knowledge of the country comes through in the novel. Some of the strongest sections are when we are fully able to be immersed in the natural habitat of the area; the eerie walk Thaniel embarks on through the forest, complete with hanging ghosts and thick with mist, is beautifully done and gives a visceral, alternative image to the so-called ‘suicide forest’ most of us have no doubt heard of.
Takiko’s time in the isolated, snow-covered work-camp is equally mesmerising; I could almost feel the chill Pulley was describing. She used every sense to relay to us just how harsh and baron this environment was – indeed, it was one of the many real places bought to life in the novel.
Elsewhere, Pulley gave us a strong sense of Japan through the smaller details, allowing her readers to compare and contrast the two places the series focuses on, and is also a great way to make her characters discover another side to their personalities, pushing their actions more in this unknown setting.
Moving on to the characters, and I was really pleased that we saw more of Six in The Lost Future of Pepperharrow. She was mentioned a handful of times in The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, but in the sequel she develops her voice and becomes a strongminded, likable, and at times funny character, very reminiscent of Grace. She acts as an anchor for Thaniel and Mori, heightening the emotional and romantic nature of their relationship.
Making Mori more absent in this sequel also allows for an intriguing transitional shift in the novel, allowing more space for Thaniel to develop and grow as a character, which I really enjoyed. Not only did we see a more vulnerable side of the stoic Mori, but we also experienced Thaniel coming into his own and taking charge in situations; a far cry from his somewhat meek and scared persona of the previous novel.
While the brilliant Grace doesn’t feature as heavily in this sequel, this is more than made up for with the addition of Takiko. Pulley has an obvious skill for creating strong, female characters, slotting them in naturally in a range of environments. Her mixed heritage means that Takiko offers some insight into the blend of cultures that existed during that time, and the different ways that she could use each nationality to her advantage. She is also a vital missing piece into Mori’s once elusive background; through diving back through the past during the first sections of the book, we understand why each character is the way that they are today, and discover more about their intentions. She is funny, intimidating and charming – a brilliant addition to novel that would have been lost without her.
Once again in The Lost Future of Pepperharrow, Pulley plays with the blend of science and local superstition, this time focusing on Japanese folklore and traditions. This element of the novel was really fun to explore and read about. As the characters learned more about their surroundings and character quirks, we gained valuable insight into life in Japan at that time – far removed from the fog-covered city of London where the book first lands us. The science behind Mori’s gift is elaborated on further, which allowed the reader to connect with and understand him more. We also saw the addition of ghosts, but discussed in a more scientific and frank manner too, so we are allowed to decide for ourselves which parts of the novel (and what characters) we believe. The owls return again, and we learn what these animals mean to the local communities. The mysterious weather over Mount Fuji plays a vital part in the novel, both in furthering the science elements of the book and also bringing to life the Japanese culture and importance of this area. As writers, we’re often told to steer clear of bringing so much focus to the weather, yet in Pulley’s case this was often where her writing shined. So much descriptive space was given to the weird phenomenon’s, which ended up being far more important than the reader initially thinks. We move from the fogs of London to the crashing electrical storms of Japan, and Pulley showcases ‘weird’ weather in the most wonderful way.
While this was another easily readable book from Pulley with some great minor characters and fully developed plot, I did find the narrative slightly too long. There are sections in the novel – when the characters first arrive in Japan, for example – which I felt didn’t add enough to the story. Although they did help to add to this sense of suspense, this impatient reader was eager to see our characters back in action and exploring their new surroundings, solving the ‘mysteries’. Despite this, I was gripped from start to finish. The Lost Future of Pepperharrow encourages escapism of the highest level, immersing us in a time and place largely unknown to many of its readers, with the help of memorable characters and exquisite description.
The Lost Future of Pepperharrow is published by Bloomsbury Books and is available here.
Natasha Pulley studied English Literature at Oxford University. After stints working at Waterstones as a bookseller, then at Cambridge University Press as a publishing assistant in the astronomy and maths departments, she did the Creative Writing MA at UEA. She later studied in Tokyo, where she lived on a scholarship from the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation. She was chosen to be a Writer in Residence at Gladstone’s Library and is now associate lecturer at Bath Spa University and panel tutor at the Cambridge University Institute of Continuing Education. Her first novel, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, was an international bestseller, won a Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award. The Bedlam Stacks is her second novel. She lives in Bath.
Reviewed by Mariah Feria
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