The Mechanical is a piece of speculative fiction which tells of an alternative history in which the Netherlands have unlocked the power to bring clockwork to life using alchemy. The last stronghold against the empirical might of the Dutch is Marseille in the West, home to the King of France in exile. Playing her part in the resistance is a foul-mouthed spy master named Bernice De Laval. The French are preparing to defend their city with the Clockmakers secrets, as well as an armory of advanced chemical weapons.
The story begins with Jax, a mechanical servitor who is contracted to a merchant family. Whilst running an errand he stops to see the execution of some papist spies and an apparently rouge Clakker (another name for mechanical servants.) We learn that Clakkers not bound by geasa are incredibly rare and considered to be extremely dangerous. Few Clakkers are ever freed from the compulsions that dictate their lives and any attempt to resist these compulsions causes them agony and eventually death. We also becoming acquainted with Pastor Visser, the last surviving member of a spy-ring. He sets Jax on an errand that eventually results in the servitor becoming free.
There are a few point of views within this novel with Jax as the driving character. He serves as a catalyst for the characters coming together, as well as acting as a humanising force for the machines. We watch him discover his own free will and wrestles with the consequences of his actions. As the story progresses we also view the world from Visser’s perspective. He falls into the hands of chief torturer of the Guild of Horologists and Alchemists Anastasia Bell with consequences that might be hard for some readers to stomach. Bernice features heavily and eventually joins forces with Jax, though her motives are less pure than his. She is an all out anti-heroine, making terrible decisions in a desperate bid to outmanoveur the Dutch and their mechanical army.
One of the great things about this novel is that on the surface it’s about robots rising up to sieze power. Yet as you become intrenched in the story it carries with it some weighty themes and philosophical ideas. One of the most interesting explorations is the question of what constitutes free-will and the religious implications of this. Raising questions such as if free will is removed is the soul also removed or would it still be burdened by the actions of the possessed individual.
The level of description can become a bit much at times, I often struggle with books that are too wordy or when an author spends 4 hours describing the density of a pin. I felt that initially I found it too much, however you soon get into the rhythm of it. Be prepared however for some questionable staring off into the distance moments while the characters lament about life whilst looking upon nature’s glory.
As a whole this book is a class act, beautifully written, fun and full of action. There are strong female characters and all of the characters have real stake and powerful motivations. The author isn’t precious about destroying their lives and everything they hold dear which helps to bring the painful parts of the novel to life.
It is worth pointing out that this is more a novel in three parts than a trilogy. You can’t read one without the others which might bother some. I personally loved it so much I didn’t mind and devoured all three in quick succession. There’s also always a risk with numerous POV, inevitably you’ll like one more than the other except with this novel I didn’t feel that there was a boring perspective, it all fitted together and each slice of perception served the story well in it’s content.
I loved it, will probably re-read, if only to get Bernice’s insults down for use in my everyday life!
Have you read anything by Ian Tregillis, let me know your views in the comments!