When a first-time novelist comes up with a book as creative, well-written and intriguing as The Clockwork Three, it's time to stand up and shout that something great has happened,
Matthew Kirby's debut is the sort of novel you always hope to read. It's original, odd, exciting, sad, and an excellent piece of storytelling that will keep readers hooked for all 390 pages.
Set sometime at the beginning of the 20th century in a New-York-style city, The Clockwork Three tells of the amazing adventures of three plucky young teens. At the start of the story, the trio, known as the Clockwork Three, don't know each other, but their lives occasionally cross. Kirby takes his time to bring them together, meaning each of their characters is firmly established before their joint story kicks off.
And this is where one of the novel's strengths lies. Kirby knows his characters very well, and knows how to get his readers to empathise with them. Giuseppe, Hannah and Frederick come alive as soon as they are introduced. Their personalities and stories are expertly presented, and when fate entangles them, the action really takes off.
Giuseppe is a young street musician who has been forcibly brought from his home in Italy to earn money for a godfather on the city streets. He is part of a gang controlled by the evil Stephano. All Giuseppe can think about is survival and earning enough money for a boat ticket back to Italy.
Hannah's family is having a hard time because her father, a gifted stonemason, has suffered a stroke and can no longer work. Hannah supports her family by working as a maid at the grand Gilbert Hotel. When she meets a formidable guest called Madam Pomeroy, Hannah's life changes for ever.
Frederick is an orphaned apprentice clockmaker with a secret. He is secretly making a clockwork man and he just needs a few more pieces to complete his automaton. Frederick was brought up in an awful orphanage run by the hideous Mrs Treeless, and his childhood has left him unable to trust anyone.
These three very different people are brought together by a clever plot twist, then adventure speeds them across the city, from the dark docks to the glittering opera house, from the secrets of the Archer Museum to the shadows of an ancient cemetery. The three find strength in their unexpected friendship and excitement in the events that suddenly engulf them.
The Clockwork Three is a classy find and a thoroughly satisfying read for anyone who likes a well-told tale.
John Millen can be contacted on [email protected]