BookBrowse Reviews Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio


A Novel

by Nick Harkaway

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway X
Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2012, 496 pages
    Oct 2012, 496 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

Buy This Book

About this Book



A zany, convoluted, literary three-ring circus where anything can happen

The basic theme of Angelmaker is familiar enough: a threat to the world must be nullified by an unlikely hero. In Nick Harkaway's hands, however, this simple storyline becomes something entirely unique and unexpected, defying easy classification. It's equal parts science fiction, gangster novel, absurdist comedy, spy story and government conspiracy novel, forming one zany, convoluted, literary three-ring circus where anything can happen. It's the kind of thing you'd expect to get if you dropped Doug Adams's perpetually bewildered Arthur Dent in the middle of a James Bond intrigue: utter mayhem.

It's impossible to read Angelmaker without thinking of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere (an urban fantasy TV series created by Lenny Henry and Neil Gaiman that Gaimain later developed into a novel). Both delve into the darker aspects of life in England, exploring cultures that exist just below the surface of the mundane world, completely unknown to those of us in the mainstream. I found Angelmaker much darker, edgier and more complex, however, with an underlying sense of menace that pervades the narrative. Angelmaker's plot is also reliant on the mechanical rather than the magical, generating a more convincing and consequently more chilling atmosphere throughout.

The novel does contain plenty of action and it speeds along fairly well, but it's not exactly a page-turner. Harkaway takes his time developing his protagonists, and as a result much of the text is introspective. The characters analyze themselves, the situations in which they've been placed and the role the past has played in leading them to this point.

"[Retired super-spy] Edie Banister is feeling like a cow. More, she is conscious of sin. Not in any fleshy way, alas, but in her heart.  She has transgressed against Joshua Joseph Spork. She has, in fact, stitched him up like a kipper, albeit for the good of mankind and the betterment of the human race. She persuaded herself that it was not personal. That this was the best way. Now, gazing at the little toy soldier he repaired so deftly, and recalling the stifled disappointment on his face, she feels wicked. She is increasingly certain that some part of her has borne a grudge for longer than J. Joseph Spork has been alive, and has chosen this method to revenge itself. Duty, love, idealism and spite all discharged at once.  She contemplates her soul, and finds it wanting."

While this does slow the book's momentum at times, it has the benefit of creating fully realized characters, something that's essential to the success of this type of novel. When so much of the plot drifts into the absurd, the characters must be believable or the whole thing comes off as silly. Fortunately that's not a problem here; the action takes place in the "real world," and the characters' three-dimensionality nicely balances the unlikely elements of the story.

Extensive characterization can be problematic however, especially when the cast is as large as Harkaway's. I found the way he recycles minor characters throughout the narrative to be particularly troublesome. An individual will appear for two pages early on in the novel, and suddenly return in a larger role, three hundred pages later, with no preamble. Several times I found myself flipping back in the book to reacquaint myself with a character I initially thought was inconsequential. It was confusing at times, and I would think audiobook listeners in particular would find this aspect of Harkaway's writing somewhat aggravating. Overall, though, the plot is so entertaining it's worth tolerating this slight annoyance, plus the surprising ways in which the author uses these supposedly insignificant players is part of the fun.

After reading the first chapter of Angelmaker I asked my reading friends, "How could I have not known about this author?" Harkaway (who is incidentally the son of John le Carré, a fact that, to his credit, is not referenced in his official biography) published his first novel, Gone Away World, in 2008 in the UK (2009 in the USA); Angelmaker is his second novel. I thoroughly enjoyed his dark British humor, complex story, well-defined, likeable characters and wry descriptions, and I found his writing very much up my alley. That said, it's not a book that I would unhesitatingly recommend to everyone. The plot is as intricate as the clockwork device at the book's heart, requiring an attention to detail and level of concentration some may not wish to invest. It's also pretty grim in places, with graphic descriptions of torture and other forms of violence explicit enough that some might find these scenes rather disturbing. Finally, Harkaway's humor is in a similar vein as that of authors Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, and Jasper Fforde, which some readers don't quite "get." These attributes are likely to limit the novel's appeal, particularly among younger readers. I would strongly urge those interested in the novel to peruse an excerpt before purchasing it, as I think most will know pretty quickly whether or not it's right for them. I also think that Angelmaker is apt to win Harkaway legions of new fans, as those who enjoy novels of this type – convoluted, quirky, dark yet funny - will likely love every minute of this one.

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

This review was originally published in April 2012, and has been updated for the October 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: American Histories
    American Histories
    by John E. Wideman
    In American Histories, a collection of 21 short stories, John Edgar Wideman draws America's present ...
  • Book Jacket: I Found My Tribe
    I Found My Tribe
    by Ruth Fitzmaurice
    Ruth O'Neill was only 28 when she married film director Simon Fitzmaurice in 2004. Changing her...
  • Book Jacket: The Art of the Wasted Day
    The Art of the Wasted Day
    by Patricia Hampl
    Patricia Hampl wants you to know that daydreaming is not a waste of a day. Nor is spending time ...
  • Book Jacket: Circe
    by Madeline Miller
    Towards the end of Madeline Miller's novel Circe, the titular nymph is questioned by her son ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner

A love story for things lost and restored, a lyrical hymn to the power of forgiveness.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

Win this book!
Win The Leavers

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

One of the most anticipated books of 2017--now in paperback!


Word Play

Solve this clue:

T E H N Clothes

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.