The Lost Future of Pepperharrow, by Natasha Pulley: reviewed by Gregory G. H. Rihn
The Lost Future of Pepperharrow is the third book by Natasha Pulley set in the world of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. Unlike The Bedlam Stacks, which was a prequel of sorts, The Lost Future of Pepperharrow is a direct sequel to Watchmaker.
In Lost Future, Mori has gone back to Japan, via Russia. His old schoolmate, Kuroda, has become Prime Minister of Japan. The Imperial Russian Fleet is staging provocative maneuvers in sight of the Japanese coast, Kuroda has ordered a fleet of new warships in response, and war may be imminent.
When the action gets to Japan, we find out some things that make profound differences in how we, the reader, must view the Watchmaker world. First, Mori is married, to an unconventional woman who, among other things, runs a kabuki theater company. Second, and more importantly, in Japan, Mori’s power to see the future is an open secret. Kuroda wants to use Mori’s abilities to plot an infallible battle plan against the Russians. Moreover, Kuroda has also initiated a project to duplicate and quantify Mori’s powers. Dr. Grace Carrow, now living in Japan with her husband, is conscripted from her underappreciated teaching job to work on this project.
The British Government, with its own interests in the Far East, sends Thaniel (and therefore Six) to Japan in order to keep tabs on the situation, which soon spirals out of control.
Ms. Pulley has continued with her crystalline and enjoyable writing style, and with the creation of fascinating characters, such that, in my review of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, I credited her with the invention of character-driven Steampunk. However, in The Lost Future of Pepperharrow, I think that her reach has exceeded her grasp, at least plotwise. The insurmountable question arises: why would Japan, knowing of Mori’s power, ever let him leave? The book goes to great lengths to support the surmise that a man who can see the future can only be held against his will with the greatest of difficulty. This ignores the fact that Japan at that time was still a largely feudal government, and that Mori, as an honorable noble vassal, bore the burden of absolute duty to his liege lords, notoriously up to and including committing seppuku on demand. Indeed, Mori’s power is such that if his head of house, or the Prime Minister/Shogun merely conceived the firm intention to command anything of Mori, he would be aware of it—and therefore bound by it.
So, there’s a lot of pointless handwaving around locking Mori up. Dr. Carrow’s project, which has the unintended consequence of making the past visible, is actually more unlikely, but more necessary to the plot.
More disturbing is that two new, very likable characters, both of them women, literally sacrifice themselves in the furtherance of Mori’s plan. The actual plan is very nebulous, but a reference to a certain microscope raises troubling questions as to exactly how ruthless Mori can be in order to save someone he cares about.
I’m sorry to say that personally I found the conclusion unconvincing and unsatisfying.