The Starlight Watchmaker is another high-quality offering from the ever-reliable Barrington Stoke. Its eye-catching cover is beautifully designed and hints at the content within, arousing curiosity in a prospective reader. This foray into sci-fi features Hugo, the eponymous watchmaker and an android who needs the starlight of the title to recharge his batteries and ensure his survival. He lives and works in a tiny attic on the campus of an elite academy attended by only the most privileged biological students and is thus wholly isolated from the world around him.
His life changes rapidly when Dorian, one of the students, comes to demand high-handedly that his broken watch is repaired. Hugo discovers that the quantum energy source which powers the watch is missing and suspects it has been stolen to make a bomb. The story unfolds into a quest to find the thief and prevent any destruction and along the way intriguing characters and scenarios are introduced. An unlikely friendship develops between Hugo and Dorian and, when their search takes them to an abandoned and forgotten city beneath their own they find the answer to the puzzle of the missing quantum energy.
A colony of abandoned androids is living in the gloomy depths, with no light to recharge their batteries and so the theft of the energy is the only way in which they can survive. They have all been abandoned by their owners for newer models and so cannot get ID passes which allow them to live and work on the surface. This heartless and unthinking exclusion from society offers a parallel to our own attitudes to possessions and to those we feel are inferior to us. Dorian uses his father’s wealth and influence to reinstate the androids into society, recognising that the old and battered robots have valuable inter-planetary language skills to offer those who wish to work and travel in other solar systems.
James makes it clear in this entertaining and thought-provoking story that there are lessons to be learned, but she allows readers to explore the unfolding ideas through the course of the narrative, thus making their impact even more hard-hitting.