The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis
Just finished reading The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis and what a great story this is. I really enjoyed it, a strange combination of alternate history, steampunk and conflict – in more ways than one – that packs an emotional punch for most of the journey.
I’m not going to say this was a quick read because it isn’t. The style of writing and depth of detail coupled with the ideas and name places do mean you have to give this your whole attention. Or at least I found so. But that’s not a criticism. I loved the world displayed on the pages here and I was entranced almost immediately by the plight of the Clakkers.
At the heart of the story is the war between the all powerful Netherlands who, using the Clakkers that they invented approximately 200 years ago, have risen to supremacy and the French and their King in exile who, having barely survived the last conflict, spend their time trying to find a way to thwart any future attacks.
Thanks to an inventor called Huygens the Netherlands possess the know-how to make Clakkers. Mechanical, thinking and talking machines, much stronger and faster than humans, brought to life through a combination of chemicals and alchemy and controlled by ‘geas’ that make it impossible for them to act on impulse and in actual fact cause them increasing pain if they disobey a direct order. The Guild who create the Clakkers closely guard their inner workings but unfortunately, every now and again, one of the Clakkers seems to break free of the restraints imposed and turn ‘rogue’. And this is how the story starts – with a public execution of not only traitors to the Brasswork Throne but a Clakker who has broken free from his obligations. It’s a great opening. It keeps you hooked with suspense and immediately demonstrates that whilst these automatons are mechanically made objects – they do have the ability to think independently and are far from the simple machines without feelings that the Guild would have everyone believe.
At the start of the story, a precarious ceasefire has been agreed but it balances on a knife edge and rests on the French obeying the terms and conditions to the letter. Of course, both sides are infiltrated by spies and double agents. The Netherlands trying to protect their secrets and the French trying desperately to find out what makes the Clakkers tick before any more attacks come their way.
The story alternates around three main protagonists – Jax, a Clakker whose inner thoughts we become privvy to, Berenice, the spymaster general to King Louis and Father Visser who is in fact an undercover Catholic priest. Their lives will become inextricably linked especially when Visser sets Jax on a mission which has a dramatic impact on both their lives and could potentially create the spark to start a whole new war.
What I found really impressive with this book is the way the author makes you care about all three of these characters. I mean Jax is a mechanical and yet I just loved his character and really cared about him. Similarly Berenice – talk about your creative cursing – she gets put through the wringer for sure but still comes out kicking and fighting. Visser – well, the least said here the better. I could barely read what he went through.
This is certainly an incredibly clever, complex and layered book and I’m sure that everyone who reads it will take away their own interpretation which is something that I really admire. I will mention that the author doesn’t shy away from the more violent aspects of the story. He simply tells it the way it is warts and all – and there are a few stomach turning scenes where blood and guts take a messy centre stage. But, it’s not gratuitous simply realistic and a fairly honest look at the damage that a strong automaton could wreak on what are, comparatively speaking, fragile humans. Is that an argument for imposing geas on the Clakkers – some seem to think so and yet the majority of the violence caused during the story is as a result of human interference.
Very thought provoking. A gripping and enjoyable read with an ending that left me wanting to know when the next book comes out!
I received a copy of this from the publishers courtesy of Netgalley for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.