The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine
Published: June 2015 by Egmont
Genre: Middle Grade, Historical, Mystery
Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow is one of those books that has been swimming around my radar for a while. It’s a mystery wrapped up in historical fiction so I was very much like “gimme” when I finally got around to it.
Sophie Taylor is trying to make her way in the world after being suddenly orphaned following the death of her beloved father. Luckily, she manages to land a job at the Milliners Department of the new, first-of-it’s-kind Sinclair’s department store. However things get off to a rocky start after the priceless clockwork sparrow, on show at the store, is stolen and Sophie finds herself being investigated by the police as the prime suspect. With the help of her new friends Lil, a Sinclair’s model and stage actress, Billy, the shy porter with a soft spot for Sophie, and Joe the stranger on the run from the East End, can Sophie clear her name before it’s too late?
This was a 3.5 verging on 4 star book for me. This was a nice, light read which sped along nicely. I think what really stood out for me though were the delightful characters. I loved how tenacious Sophie was despite how the tenuous life she’d tried so hard to build up was collapsing around her. I loved how supportive and genuine Lil was, she is basically the best friend all girls need. Billy was loyal, but adorably a little shy, whilst it was really interesting to see Joe’s character evolution. I loved the little gang that Sophie, Billy, Lil and Joe made up (also some intense shipping going on here!!) and liked that they were all distinct personalities from diverse backgrounds. The different POVs gave us a better insight into each of the characters and whilst this meant we didn’t get to know any of them particularly well, as this is a series, I’m sure that will come in time.
I think the plot was where the book fell down a little for me – it’s meant to be a light-hearted romp of a mystery aimed at the middle grade audience, so I really wasn’t expecting it to take the turn that it did and become quite political! The climax was a bit outlandish, especially when Sophie was the only person who could stop a major catastrophe from happening and I suppose I felt I had to suspend my belief a little. Nonetheless, it was exciting and I must admit the mystery did keep me turning the pages. I think I’m more interested in the hints and clues Woodfine sprinkled throughout the book surrounding the mastermind villain and her departed father than I am about mulling over the actual mystery of the book which I usually love doing once finishing the book…
The setting was a big part of The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow. Sinclair’s department store is inspired by the renowned Selfridges and Harrods of London, and there actually was a department store, Simpson’s, that stood on the current Waterstones site in Piccadilly! I adored the lavish and detailed descriptions of Sinclair’s – the different departments, the luxury and innovation it represented but also the great machinery and army of workers needed to keep it going. Woodfine describes in exquisite detail everything from the beautiful architecture, the array of different departments, the luxury items on sale at the store, as well as the wealthy patrons who visit – so much so that I found myself taking a virtual tour of Sinclair’s 🙂
I would recommend The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow to fans of the Wells & Wong mysteries by Robin Stevens, or just anyone after a light read with delightful characters and a good plot that keeps you engaged and interested throughout. Fair warning though – it will leave you craving buns and wanting to visit a department store milliners to try on Edwardian style hats…