Book Review: The Mechanical

The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis, The Alchemy Wars #1

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.


I learned about this book last year during my LonCon3 visit, the premise sounded amazing and ever since having read Bitter Seeds and Something More Than Night I have been very taken by the way that Ian Tregillis devises his stories, they are great to start with but have much more working in their favor, they have big idea's, very creative and are to be honest in certain parts quite ruthless. The Mechanical is the lastest addition to the so far impressive line up of books that Ian Tregillis has written, and with it he has really out done his previous works. This is amazing stuff.

The story of The Mechanical picks up in an alternate version of The Netherlands in the early 1900s. The Netherlands had some very talented scientists in that day Antoine van Leeuwenhoek who invented the microscope and Christiaan Huygens who invented the pendulum clock. Now in the version that Ian Tregillis creates, Christiaan Huygens did something more, he fused alchemy and chemistry together and created a thinkable automaton, a mechanical being, a Clakker. However there is a catch though as these Clakkers are controlled by a geas in which they have to be obedient to their masters else the Clakkers will suffer a lot of pain. Clakkers made for extremely helpful servant, they don't tire easily but well they also helped in a different way. That of making the Dutch the superior power on Earth as no soldier could withstand the relentlessness of the Clakker Army. In the beginning of the story of The Mechanical you learn that the French still have spies in The Hague trying to learn about the secrets of the Clakkers in order to defeat them. Some spies have their cover blown and the result is public hanging. Here you meet Jax, a Clakker and servant the Schoonraad family. With Jax' introduction you get to see more and more about the Clakkers and what makes their cogs whir and spin, like the power of the geas. The Schoonraad family is on the brink of moving to New Amsterdam, (currently better known as New York). Here Jax is task by a reverent to relocate a microscope to his contact their. But along the journey something happens to Jax, of course for the better for his own persona but it does make his new journey in New Amsterdam that more perilous. One word: Free Will. Yes, it hits the fan with a lot of consequences... 

As with the other books that Ian Tregillis, this short summary above doesn't come near to do justice to the whole book. As I already said in the very beginning, Ian Tregillis knows how to spin a story and this book is a brilliant story. It highlights many facets of course we Dutch being evil harr! but also shows what we Dutch have brought to the world history, we might have been a small country but our contribution to science has been very large. Don't think that this is pure science story, it's it by far, granted the occasional mentioning of Clakker engineering is mentioned but this is a fusion product, which makes a very interesting air around it all. Now what makes for me the feeling of the story truly complete is the mentioning of Free Will, there is a high emphasis on this aspect, Ian Tregillis even goes so far as provoking me (i think you as well) as thinking about Free Will and what is actually is. Great to see it being used in this way, gives a nice emotional spin to the story. All these facets dress the alternate version really really well. 

Added to this come the vivid descriptions of the Dutch cities. Having visited these cities myself quite often I was taken by the depth of describing the surroundings that Ian Tregillis showed. The cities are alive, vibrant and have their own dark corners where the bad things happen. For me specifically is was cool to read the Dutch words when Ian Tregillis went to describe the scenery, it added a whole cartload of flavor to the story. The descriptions were just superb and when the scenes took place in the laboratory, I could just see the fumes and smoke coming out of the book, yes you are given a front row seat.

As for the characters. Here Ian Tregillis takes another great spin. You follow both humans and clakkers throughout the story, seeing the story from the point-of-view of the Dutch side, the French side and of course the Clakker side. By this you get to experience a well crafted story. For starters the Dutch side is of course represented by the Royal line, but also by a Pastor Luuk Visser, a Catholic priest, who sees things happening around him and finds that this world needs to change. However his plans and his course in life are about to be drastically changed. Remember Free Will? Remember that. The French side is represented by Vicomtesse Bernice de Laval, whose is lead of the French spies and who wants to find a new way to stop the Clakker, their epoxy bombs no longer work. But her journey just as that of Pastor Visser is a journey filled with twists and turns, but luckily her determination and perseverance is strong. As for the Clakker side this is of course represented by Jax, he is a mechanical men, or better phrased a slave. His masters orders put him in a geas that he has to complete, if not, or even if it takes longer than expected he get a pain, an undesirable burning pain, also a Clakker can't be asked to do two tasks at once, the geas will play a heavy price. I really liked that Ian Tregillis showed the mechanical side of the story, not just putting them secondary but puttig them right in the middle of it all. You know and you probably can guess that there is a twist, the synopsis doesn't say "But I shall be free" without a reason, and this latter part transforms the whole story. Now I will shut up before I spoil to much. 

Anyway, all this taken together make The Mechanical a book that you must, MUST have read this year, the better, the sooner. The Mechanical directly lived up to all my expectations and when I come to think of it, it went above and beyond it. The story is set up in a very intricate way, highlighting many different facets of the world, the characters, factions and their believes. I liked that he talked the many social aspects, Free Will and theology. There is a great blend of themes, steampunk, alternate history and some magic as well. Ian Tregillis is once again at the top of his game (is there ever a moment he isn't!?), make sure you ride this wave! 

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