In a world where self-aware servants have taken on all the menial roles of everyday life, one ‘Clakker’ witnesses something new: a mechanical who stands up to his masters.
Such is the hook for Ian Tregillis’ alternative-history fantasy The Mechanical, an original approach to a well-known subject matter; human ethics and free will.
But instead of flinging us into space, Tregillis goes into the past and alters the flow of history from before the Industrial Revolution. In his world, the world view of Christiaan Huygens and the politics of the Netherlands have emerged victorious from the tumult of the Renaissance and subsequent struggle between reason and revelation, resulting in the world of The Mechanical.
And it is a fascinating world indeed. Although populated in part by archetypical characters and sometimes rote plot devices, by injecting dollops of alchemy and a dash of Old-World royal jostling into his unique version of the rise of the machines, The Mechanical is very much its own entity.
Tregillis is a capable sculptor of narrative. He rarely drags on in his descriptions, painting a complex picture of his world one section at a time. He imbues most characters with a specific internal voice, ably switching between points of view without it ever jarring. And the central character, a Clakker known as Jax, is the most engaging automaton you’ll encounter in any recent book.
This opener to the Alchemy Wars trilogy delivers a mostly fresh breath of sci-fi fantasy.