Wednesday, 21 October 2015

The Alchemy Wars #1: The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis (Orbit Books)

My name is Jax.

That is the name granted to be by my human masters.

I am a clakker: a mechanical man, powered by alchemy. Armies of my kind have conquered the world - and made the Brasswork Throne the sole superpower.

I am a faithful servant. I am the ultimate fighting machine. I am endowed with great strength and boundless stamina.

But I am beholden to the wishes of my human masters.

I am a slave. But I shall be free.

Ian Tregillis has quickly emerged as one of my go-to authors if I want to read some good alternate historical fiction, with a sci-fi/fantasy bent. His Milkweed Tryptych series saw British warlocks battle Nazi super soldiers in an awesome alternate WW2 setting and absolutely blew me away. The Mechanical offers up more of the same, an inventive world, a compelling atmosphere and an awesome finale. The book grabbed me from the moment I started reading as it pulled it into an alternate, alchemy-fuelled world where the Dutch have risen to become the world power, in the 17th Century following scientist Christiaan Hyugen’s use of magic to create several intelligent clockwork robots that live only to serve their masters. It’s an imaginative, original and captivating premise that had me hooked, and it never disappointed.

The book doesn’t shy away from the dark nature of what we’re witnessing. Using themes from political thrillers and spy novels we’re thrust into a world unlike anything you’ll have quite seen before. The execution of French spies may not allow for the most uplifting start to the novel, but it does set the tone for The Mechanical. We’re thrust into the world through the eyes of the clakker named Jax, who is part faithful servant, part ultimate superweapon. His relationships with some of the human characters helps drive this book, particularly with the French spymaster Berenice Charlotte de Mornay-Perigord. There are other characters that the book touches on as well such as Father Visser, another person who’s hiding secrets, for he is in fact a Catholic Priest, as it creates compelling, enthralling characters with a variety of personalities and motivations. The amount of depth that’s on display here is intense, and you get a fully realised sense of the world that although may not allow for one of the quickest reads ever, does provide for one of the most engrossing.

It’s also pretty worth noting that you shouldn’t expect a happy ending whilst reading this book, there isn’t any real assurance that anybody will be safe, and Tregillis manages to create a level of tension and unpredictability that keeps running through the book. The Alchemy Wars are a fascinating concept and it explores the relations between the French and the Dutch very well in a world where most historical alternate fantasies don’t really touch much on either. The good news is that The Mechanical is not a standalone novel so you can expect plenty more from the Universe, which is great because Tregillis has created a world I can’t wait to return to. The next book comes in the form of The Rising, which is the second book in the trilogy and due out later this year. It’s certainly something that based on the quality of this book, I can expect to see topping the best of the year lists. 

In conclusion therefore it’s safe to say that The Mechanical is a confident, enthralling and captivating read from Ian Tregillis that puts few things wrong as it kickstarts an awesome new trilogy from the writer of the Milkweed Tryptych novels. He’s a writer who deserves a hell of a lot more exposure with his imaginative fiction and this is really something that more fans of SFF should check out when they get the chance. The Mechanical is a great jumping on point if you want to learn just what makes the author so good.


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