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Literature / The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street

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1883. Thaniel Steepleton returns home to his tiny London flat to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the mysterious timepiece saves his life, drawing him away from a blast that destroys Scotland Yard. At last, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori, and finds him a kind, lonely immigrant from Japan. Although Mori seems harmless, a chain of unexplainable events soon suggests he must be hiding something. When Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist, unwittingly interferes, Thaniel is torn between opposing loyalties.

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The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street contains examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Mori finds Gilbert and Sullivan's The Theme Park Version of Japan, as well as their own grandiose attitude, giggle-inducing.
  • Agent Scully: Grace has leanings towards this. Snicker-inducing in an uncharitable modern reader, because she is also, throughout the book, very passionate about proving that ether exists. Because she thinks it would explain ghosts and the mind-body problem (Grace is agressively scientistic.)
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Mori is unpopular among his clan due to his modernist outlook, and his precognition tends to alienate people such as Ito, young Matsumoto, and Grace who believe he could easily cause them harm and get away with it.
  • Asshole Victim: Mori's cousin is introduced being an abusive, proud asshole. He remains like this for the entire one chapter until he is killed by a crumbling wall of his own castle. Which, as Mori has commented on minutes before, may look impressive, but is in dire state of disrepair.
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  • Break the Scientist: It quite upsets Grace that Mori can see the future. She does try to quantify this using science, but fails and starts acting rather erratically.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Fanshaw, whose brain seems to be in three places at once and who does embroidery (in his office) to stave off stress, besides blatantly stealing people from other departaments - but he is good at his job.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Matsumoto is simply too cool to confess his feelings for Grace, all the while finding excuses to be close to her and letting her order him around. There's also the issue of what their respective families would say.
  • The Cassandra: Grace calls herself one when trying to warn Thaniel away from Mori. And though Thaniel doesn't believe her, she is right when she predicts that where he spends his wedding night is where he will eventually choose to stay for good.
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  • Category Traitor: Yuki, who idolizes traditional (pre-Meiji Restoration) Japan, accuses Mori of this and hates him for it.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Thaniel comments that it is unwise for Spindle to be so open about working for the police, which ends up being what Clan na Gael used to blackmail him into making bombs.
    • Mori in general is a source of these because his precognition allows him to create them, such as the seeds he drops which (should have) led to a tree branch breaking at just the right moment to stop an assassin.
    • Katsu's ability to move at random (thanks to magnets) allowing his location to be unpredictable to Mori
  • Clingy Macguffin: It's impossible to lose one of Mori's watches. Pawnbrokers in the city refuse to take them - they inevitably disappear after a few days and find their way back to their owner.
    • It's hinted that this is deliberately invoked by Mori, who steals them in order to make them unpawnable, so that Thaniel won't be able to get rid of his.
  • Clock Punk: Mori creates stunningly gorgeous, incredibly complex watches and toys. There's also Katsu, a mechanical octopus he makes as a pet, of sorts.
  • Defector from Decadence: Mori. Matsumoto mostly just defected to a different kind of decadence but the end suggests he's coming around to playing the trope straight.
  • Elegant Classical Musician: Male example in Thaniel, who plays the piano.
  • Female Misogynist: Grace disregards other women as superficial and silly. When Matsumoto gently reminds her she's a woman herself, she protests that she had a proper education. She also thinks classics is the most pointless subject one can study.
  • First Girl Wins: Boy, in this case. Mori for Thaniel and Matsumoto for Grace.
  • First-Name Basis: Thaniel calls Mori ‘Keita’ at the end of the novel, signalling an upgrade to their relationship.
  • For Science!: Grace's goal in life. Sometimes she almost seems like a Mad Scientist in the first stages of her career.
  • For Want of a Nail: The possible futures Mori can see work like this, for example his diary ends up being wrong when a dice falls a certain way and results in Thaniel meeting Grace.
  • Friendly Local Chinatown: Japanese model village in London is the setting for a good portion of the book.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Mori either engineers or foresees "accidents" of five people who were trying to assassinate his employer, Ito. He also threatens to kill Ito’s wife, though it’s unlikely he would have actually gone through with it.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Why Mori and Grace dislike each other.
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier: Two unsuccessful attempts in the first flashback chapter, both using English as the "secret" language (it's set in Japan): first, one of Ito's aids says something not very nice about Mori, who answers, coldly if politely, in perfect English. Then Mori himself gives advice to Ito in front of his cousin, who doesn't understand what Mori said, but guesses he's up to something.
    • The second flashback has the Japanese name a hall built for foregners something that sounds poetic and elegant, but is actually a Stealth Insult.
  • Historical Domain Character: Gilbert and Sullivan appear, busy researching for The Mikado. Thaniel (who is a bit of a fan) gets to help them.
  • Hypocrite: Grace's arc starts with her bemoaning how emotional and silly women are - and ends with being estranged from her husband because of something unwise that she's done on pure emotion.
  • Inscrutable Oriental: Mori generally plays this trope straight, although Thaniel learns to read him fairly well.
  • Interchangeable Asian Cultures: In universe, both Mori and Matsumoto have to deal with people who believe this trope. Mori in particular is identified several times as a "Chinaman," and self-deprecatingly refers to himself as such to Dolly Williamson when explaining why no one would have believed him if he'd fingered Spindle as the bomb-maker
  • It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": Fanshaw, spelled Featheringstonehough. Mori and Thaniel make fun of it. Mori comments that the kanji spelling of his family name was probably also an instance of this.
  • I Want Grandkids: Grace's mother, which is part of why she tries to set Grace up with Fanshaw.
  • Last-Name Basis: Both Mori and Matsumoto, as part of their culture, insist on this. For most of the book, the only person to call Mori by his first name is a child he has befriended.
  • Logical Weakness: Mori's precognition allows him to see possible futures - the more probable, the clearer. Hence randomness throws him off, because all the chances are equal.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Matsumoto expresses this opinion. His constant intruding on Grace is partly an attempt to save her from insanity.
  • Lowest Common Denominator: In-Universe. Sullivan says, when queried about the lack of realism in The Mikado, that you have to write for the dumbest person in the audience to be a success.
  • Magical Realism: Thaniel and Annabel hired a (apparently accurate) clairvoyant to find out their father's last wishes after he left no will. Mori's watches are impossible to lose and will always return to their owner, and Mori himself has precognition. He also makes (?) and uses a powder that causes rain.
  • Marriage of Convenience: Grace needs to make one if she is to inherit her aunt's house, which she wants so she can have a proper laboratory space of her own.
  • May–December Romance: Thaniel, who is twenty-five, ends up with Mori, who is middle-aged.
  • Mundane Utility: Thaniel's synesthesia is very useful for learning languages, while Mori's talents make him unbeatable at games of skill. Apparently he once won a house in Osaka in a card game.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Grace is convinced that Mori will do this to her, which is why she creates the disaster that pushes Thaniel away from her.
  • Non-Idle Rich: Mori, who doesn't need to work (he's independently rich, and very much so), but still gets a job for the government and later moves to London to be a watchmaker.
  • Noodle Incident: While it's pretty obvious that whatever it was Grace did with the magnesium involved Stuff Blowing Up (it apparently left a permanent crater in the lawn), when she tells Matsumoto to stop complaining, since his eyebrows survived intact makes one wonder just how many lab safety procedures she's violated and why, given that she generally works with light.
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: Mori causes this all the time for Thaniel, first when Williamson asks him to spy on Mori because he's suspected of making the bombs, then when he agrees to marry Grace knowing that it will leave Mori lonelier than ever, and then by not telling him that Grace made the last bomb.
  • One Degree of Separation: Matsumoto has spent at least one summer in Mori clan's castle - that's where he learned English. Grace and Fanshaw have been childhood friends - her mother wants them to marry now, but none of them is too keen on that.
  • Parental Substitute: Mori and Thaniel for Six, a workhouse orphan.
  • Perplexing Plurals: Thaniel wonders briefly what the plural for "octopus" is.
  • Retroactive Preparation: Without actual time travel - Mori sees the future outcomes of his actions and prepares accordingly.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: Katsu - who is a clockwork octopus.
  • Ripple Effect-Proof Memory: Subverted, Mori's mannerisms and memories change based on the possible futures and whether or not they come true; he forgets a piece of music he'd been playing because Thaniel ended up not buying the sheet music for it.
  • Romantic False Lead: At first, Thaniel agrees to Grace's Marriage of Convenience proposal because it would be convenient for them both. Then, romance hesistantly develops but mostly on Grace's side, and she ends up ruining everything.
  • Samurai: Mori comes from the most prominent samurai clan in Japan, most of whom are having trouble adjusting to the Meiji Restoration. Ito, whose father was a bookseller, has some pangs of envy for the effortless Blue Blood cool that Mori has. Also Matsumoto and Mori's aquaintance, admiral Kuroda.
  • Science Marches On: Both in and out of universe example - Grace is trying to prove the existence of ether, and refuses to believe her experiments when they suggest it doesn't exist, since the calculations say it does.
  • Seers: Mori has a form of precognition.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Grace is convinced that Mori will either convince Thaniel to leave her or use his manipulation of probability to Murder the Hypotenuse. She ends up attacking Mori and creating the last bomb, which injures him, and in doing so causes Thaniel to leave her for Mori.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Matsumoto falls somewhere between this and The Dandy.
  • Soap Opera Disease: It's unclear what exactly is wrong with Grace's mother's health, but it's precarious and she uses it to guilt her daughter into behaving like a Proper Lady (which doesn't work).
  • Spot of Tea: Since the central character is a Japanese man living in England, tea ensues. Lots of it. In fact, the first thing we learn about Thaniel is that he keeps a packet of Lipton's in his desk at work - although having befriended Mori, he changes his preference to green tea. In the first flashback chapter Mori is shown to handle the tea ceremony utensils in exactly the right way.
  • Straight Gay: Neither Thaniel nor Mori act in any way camp, though they are both, in their own ways, Adorkable.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Thaniel strives hard to maintain his cool at all times, though it sometimes slips and Grace realizes too late how deeply he cares about some things. Matsumoto tends to act all blase, as well - then again, both English and Japanese cultures are stereotyped precisely as that for a reason.
  • The Stoic: While Thaniel is pretty good at maintaining his Stiff Upper Lip, Mori is better. In the first flashback chapter (the one where he meets Ito), we learn that he has endured, with a gentle smile, emotional and physical abuse from his cousin for at least three years, in addition to his beloved brothers having been killed in the civil war. In the main narrative he remains stoic to the point of Dissonant Serenity.
  • Tastes Like Purple: Thaniel has sound-to-colour synesthesia. He finds this rather embarassing, but it proves helpful while learning new music and languages (he aquires enough Japanese to make a conversation in about a month).
  • Third-Person Person: Six, on account of being a slightly feral small child, although she's capable of speaking of herself in first person. She just prefers the third.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Played with but mostly subverted with Matsumoto (who acts the part of Rich Idiot with No Day Job) and Fanshaw, lovably scatterbrained and somewhat excentric, but a dedicated, capable diplomat.
  • The Watchmaker: Mori, who used to make incredible mechanical wonders as a hobby before he left Japan, and turned it into a job once in London.
  • Western Terrorists: An Irish nationalist group called Clan na Gael has been setting off bombs around London.
  • You Are Number 6: The workhouse orphan Mori has befriended is literally known only as Six.
  • You Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious: Thaniel pointedly uses Mori's first name when declaring his intention to stay after being explicitly told about the implications of intimacy thereof.

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