Novel: The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis

The first book in the Alchemy Wars sequence, The Mechanical (2015), should cement Ian Tregillis even further as one of the fantasy genre’s most accomplished new visionaries. It’s an inventive blend of historical intrigue, steampunk worldbuilding, thought-provoking religious themes, and blazing action.

In an alternate, early twentieth century, the Dutch have conquered the world—or most of it—by infusing clockwork automatons called Clakkers with alchemical magics. These machines are compelled to do the bidding of their political masters, who maintain a firm grip on world power by deploying the Clakkers as a vast, fiercely obedient army. The Dutchs’ only competition comes from the struggling holdouts of New France in North America. But a chain of events is about to begin that may alter the balance of power. In the Netherlands, Pastor Visser—part of a network of French spies—compels a servitor mechanical named Jax to deliver an important artifact to the New World, where French spymaster Berenice is struggling for new intelligence to resist Dutch control. These three figures are destined to become crucial figures in a war between the Dutch and the French, and between obedience and free will.

The Mechanical is fiercly inventive fiction that bends magic, history, religious themes, geopolitics, and spycraft into a singular, fascinating concoction. In that sense it more closely resembles Tregillis’ Milkweed books, although there are dollops of metaphysical musing in the vein of Something More Than Night as well. In other words, it’s a one-of-a-kind fantasy novel that falls squarely into the author’s familiar milieu, while also delivering something a little different. I found it a challenging but assured and compelling read, and I’m definitely looking forward to the sequels.

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