The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis

My name is Jax.

That is the name granted to me 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.

The Mechanical is a steampunk alternate history set in the late 19th century full of espionage, intrigue, and clockwork mad scientists. The story explores the issue of free will vs. slavery through the titular mechanical “clakkers.”

Clakkers are a combination of mechanical genius and magic alchemy, resulting in what I can only describe as a steampunk fantasy version of Asimov’s robots. But instead of having three laws that bind their wills to the service of humans, clakkers have countless restrictions. These “gesha” are magical bindings that cause clakkers excruciating pain if they try to disobey an order. Resisting for too long can even lead to death.

Jax is one of these clakkers. He’s been resigned to his fate for over a century, until a rogue clakker named Adam is publicly executed for disobeying orders. As far as anyone knows, Adam is the first clakker in history to even be capable of this act of defiance.

Ian Tregillis has crafted an exquisitely fascinating world in The Mechanical. Clakkers come in all shapes and sizes; there’s Jax’s servant class, deadly war machines that have enabled the Dutch empire to conquer most of the world, mysterious centaur-like machines that keep other machines in line, and all sorts of bizarre contraptions besides. France has been driven out of its nation and New France is struggling to hold its own against the technologically superior Dutch. Catholics have gone into hiding and are forming terrorist cells to oppose the Dutch. And there are little hints dropped throughout that there just might be a land of free clakkers up in the arctic, led by someone called Queen Mab.

At times, the story takes some rather dark turns. There’s one chilling scene featuring brain surgery on a conscious patient that had me glued to the page in horror. And sometimes, the compulsion of the gesha forces likable characters to commit heinous acts of violence.

The Mechanical was a fascinating read and I can’t wait to dig into the sequel. Despite all the intrigue and unresolved mysteries in this story, my biggest question is why aren’t more people reading this series? It’s nothing short of excellent.

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