|The Mechanical (Alchemy War) by Ian Tregillis|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: In a world at war and depending on an underclass of enslaved mechanicals, a rogue is plotting an escape, a vicomtesse is following her curiosity at great cost and a secret Catholic priest seeks to protect the unprotectable, including himself. Oh yes, Ian Tregillis returns with his bloody, thrilling sci-fi best.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 480||Date: March 2015|
|External links: Author's website|
There is a truce between New France and the Dutch; a truce during which the Vicomtesse Berenice wants to learn the secrets of the Clakkers. These are robotic slaves that power everything Dutch just beyond the New French border: culture, industry, domestic duties, transport and they're also the most dangerous, relentless kind of soldier the world has ever known. Common knowledge confirms they're incapable of free will, thought, communication or freedom. Common knowledge is wrong: Clakkers' free will is suppressed by pain, their thoughts and communication are only shared between themselves and their freedom? Jax may be a Clakker, but he's working on freedom.
Ian Tregillis is the guy who brought us the alternative Nazi/wartime history of The Milkweed Triptych and now he's back with an alternative present. Actually, having said that, the era is hard to pin down. There's an 18th century feel along with a hint of steam punk, a hint of Fritz Langer and a dash of Asimov I, Robot inspiration but both 1703 and 1926 are spoken of in the past tense. In the end I stopped trying to spot the era and just enjoyed the ride – and what a ripping, original ride it turns out to be!
The three main characters we travel with are the deliciously profane Berenice, Jax the Clakker (the Mechanical of the title… or one of them thanks to a devilish twist) and man of the cloth Visser all of whom I love equally and each of whom cause heart attacks on various scales before the end.
Berenice may be aristocracy in a new world created by exiles, but she's got the vocabulary of a rugby team and the mind of an engineer. She's desperate to learn all she can about the force released against her country in these Alchemy Wars and there's a particularly costly, blood soaked scene following her initial attempts. (Not one for the squeamish!)
By the way, if you’re wondering where the alchemy comes in, Clakkers are made by alchemists and horologists; an interesting pairing.
Meanwhile the good pastor is a lot more than he seems. He's not only a secret priest in a world where Catholics are still tortured and burnt; he empathises with the enslaved no matter what the consequences are. From the moment we meet him he's expecting martyrdom but the authorities have other ideas.
The Clakkers are designed to respond to pre-programmed and vocally instructed orders from their 'betters'. Disobedience results in severe pain pushing them back on track but that's not broadly publicised. Jax is no different; he feels pain and obeys until…
Part of the joy of the story is that we're drip fed a cleverly constructed world, subtle glimpses and enticements increasing as the adventure unfurls and the places we see! The places we visit include such wonders as a 500-oar-luxury-cruiser that would make even the pre-sunk Titanic look a little tinny. This is a world where everyone is free as long as their behaviour and thoughts are in line with the authorities, otherwise the 'gardener' will take the weeds out. (Oh yes, beware the gardener!)
Indeed this is a tale about identity and the soul, packed with AI warnings from a fictional present to a possible future. And do you want to know the best thing? It's a trilogy! The next instalment The Rising is waiting in the wings for later this year. Mr Tregillis, we are so ready…
Thank you so much Orbit for providing us with a copy for review.
Further Reading: If this appeals, it would be remiss of me not to send you to [[Bitter Seeds in Ian's Triptych. If you're already a fan and like a bit of AI with your fantasy, we also recommend The Iron Dragon's Daughter by Michael Swanwick.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Mechanical (Alchemy War) by Ian Tregillis at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.