‘The Clockwork Girl’ by Anna Mazzola – Book Review

A well written but slow-paced Gothic thriller

The Clockwork Girl is an interesting novel in many ways because its undoubtedly well written and has some nice ideas at its core, but also similarly struggles to really stand out in a sea of other Gothic thrillers. The mystery itself is interesting but dragged out longer than it should, not helped in part due to the obviousness of a “twist” you’ll see a mile away.

Anna Mazzola’s descriptive writing is an absolute joy to read though, especially the way she describes the grimy underbelly of 1700’s Paris. The three different POVs we follow – Madeleine, Veronique and Jeanne – are each different and defined with good characterization, allowing us to see different parts of Paris in an organic way.

The story itself starts with a bang and wastes little time immersing you into this world. The main protagonist comes from Madeleine, a young woman with a dark past who’s forced to work with the police to investigate the mysterious and celebrated clockmaker in town. Dr Reinhart is apparently working on something special and his love of automata stems directly into this.

Madeleine’s main role in the house is to work as the maid and servant for Reinhart’s young daughter Veronique, who has big dreams of becoming an inventor just like her father. However, she’s also working as an undercover spy for the police, with her livelihood and the fate of her brother hanging in the balance.

We also shift across to Jeanne on occasion, whose experience of the upper-class becomes more evident the longer the story goes on, and whose journey I’m not about to spoil here!

The narrative soon peters out though after the first 100 or so pages, with a repetition that becomes more dull and dreary than genuinely endearing. I figured out what was happening very early on and then hoped I would be proven wrong. Alas, there is a second twist within that twist (twist-ception?) but it feels like a bit of a cop-out in all honesty to what otherwise feels like a rather perfunctory retreading of tales like Frankenstein, but without the thematic weight to really carry it.

There’s no denying that Anna Mazzola really has done her research on the time period and there’s a lovely extract at the end of the book that leans into her experiences researching the topic and how it ties into the real case of missing kids. The descriptions are lengthy but interesting, with great similes such as referencing Reinhart’s clocks in the house to a beating heart. These work really well to breathe life into the story and even when the plot is slow and drawn out, it’s never boring and will keep you reading to find out what happens next.

However, The Clockwork Girl could have done with further editing to really sharpen up the focus and the narrative. There are some POV chapters for Jeanne that could have been cut completely, while the jumping between three characters doesn’t work quite as effectively as it should. In fact, most of the time you’ll be itching to get back to Madeleine’s story!

Overall, The Clockwork Girl is… fine. It’s a decent enough page-turner but it’s certainly not a title you’ll be clamoring to re-read after putting it back on your bookshelf. Despite promising a dark, Gothic-inspired steampunk thriller, this one runs out of gas long before the final chapters.

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  • Verdict - 6/10

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