Wednesday, 7 February 2001

Paul J. McAuley: Pasquale's Angel (1994)

Edition: Gollancz, 1994 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 745

What might have happened if Leonardo da Vinci had concentrated exclusively on engineering, creating working versions of many of the devices he sketched? That is the intriguing idea behind Pasquale's Angel, which is set in a sixteenth century where these devices have precipitated an Industrial Revolution centred on Florence.

The central character of the novel is apprentice artist Pasquale, who becomes involved in momentous events after meeting journalist Niccolo Machiavegli. While drawing an illustration for his newspaper of an argument between one of da Vinci's entourage and visiting artist and diplomat Raphael, news comes to the office that one of Raphael's aides has been murdered. This is a minor locked room mystery which is modelled extremely closely on The Murders in the Rue Morgue.

The plot of the novel, which is rather poor, is mainly an excuse to speculate on what might have become of some of the important figures of the time in the changed background posited by McAuley. It is as a novel of ideas that Pasquale's Angel is interesting. I'm not sure how much an early Industrial Revolution is actually possible, given that the advances two hundred years later depended on economic and technological developments which had hardly begun in the sixteenth century. Capitalism was in its infancy, and materials technology, in particular steel manufacture, was not advanced enough to actually make some of the devices described, such as large scale steam engines.

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