The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley, a spellbinding debut novel by Sean Lusk, offers a mesmerising tale full of magic, wonder, and extraordinary characters.
Transporting the readers into eighteenth-century London, the novel begins with clockmaker Abel Cloudesley’s personal tragedy as his wife, Alice, dies during the birth of their son Zachary. Though stricken with grief, Abel takes care of Zachary with the help of a wet nurse, Mrs Morley, and Alice’s aunt Frances.
As Zachary grows up, it is clear that he is special. He is far brighter and more knowledgeable than the children of his age. He also possesses a gift – he has the ability to see into the past and future. However, after a tragic, near-fatal incident at Abel’s workshop, Abel decides that Zachary should be raised by his great-aunt. Eventually, he realizes his decision was a mistake but, unfortunately, he is unable to get Zachary back as he is prompted to go on a mission to Constantinople, from which he does not return. Several years later, it is up to Zachary to travel across Europe and uncover the truth about what happened to his father.
The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley is an original and unique tale that blends historical fiction with magical realism and steampunk. Moreover, it features tragedy, humour, and adventure, amongst a Dickensian backdrop whilst remaining accessible to a large audience; there is something for everyone.
Even though the novel’s ensemble is vast, Lusk manages to make the characters come alive on the page. Everyone has their own distinct personality and motivations. Because of this, their actions and decisions are clear throughout the story. Lusk’s consistency in his depiction of the novel’s characters aids in the readers’ emotional connection to them.
Whilst talking about the characters, it is also significant to mention the relationships and familial bonds that occur throughout the story. Perhaps the most significant relationship and the heart of the tale is the relationship between a father and a son – Abel and Zachary. From the beginning, their bond is complex, following a tragedy for which both feel responsible, though neither is at fault. However, it is clear that they love each other, even if their ways parted too early. Aside from familial relationships like that of Abel and Zachary, the novel depicts bonds which lay far beyond blood relations, showing the love and care developed for those we meet in life.
Lusk also makes sure to give voices to underrepresented communities of the time, such as women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. The diversity of characters also encourages ideas about identity, which are incorporated and discussed particularly well, letting the readers from the unrepresented communities feel understood and appreciated.
Besides the characters, Lusk grounds the story through vibrant and atmospheric descriptions, whether it be of England, Italy, or Constantinople. Creating such imagery by including a vast amount of detail helps immerse the readers in the story, connecting them with the characters’ experiences and emotions.
Undoubtedly, a lot of care and work went into this novel, especially through Lusk’s research of Anglo-Ottoman relations. Its detailed descriptions, vivid language, and complex characters make the story engaging for the readers and a perfect debut.
The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley by Sean Lusk is published by Penguin Random House UK and is available to buy from today here.
Edited by Maisie Allen, Literature Editor