Audiobook Review: The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis
Narrator: Chris Kayser
Series: The Alchemy War #1
Also by this author: The Rising
Published by Hachette Audio on March 10th 2015
Length: 15 hours 45 minutes
My name is Jax.That is the name granted to be 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 wonderful steampunk, alternate history novel that takes the reader into the dark world of spies and war and also examines issues of slavery versus free will and religion. This book can be quite dark, but it balances the horrific parts with a fascinating world and wonderful characters.
“Clakkers” or mechanical men powered by alchemy to serve humans. There are several kinds, giving them specialties (for example, some are military, trained for fighting). The are faster, stronger and more durable than humans. They are intelligent and they are completely subservient and obedient to their human masters. At least usually. There are “rogue” Clakkers that have for some reason gained some level of free will, giving them the ability to act according to their own thoughts and agendas versus just following commands. These rogues are greatly feared and prompt a witch hunt level of hysteria.
Imagine how easily an army of Clackers could change the course of a war as they provide a huge advantage. And that is exactly what happened when the Netherlands invented and used them close to hundreds of years before the story was set, pushing the French into exile. One of our perspectives is Bernice, is a French spymaster. She gives us insight into the current political field, and the plight of the French. I really enjoyed her character. She’s a fighter and she has been dealt a horrible hand, so we get a good taste of her strength and personality. You just can’t help but want things to get better for her.
This book has an interesting exploration of “what constitutes a thinking being? At what point can a machine become an individual, and hence be entitled to free will? When we create intelligent machines, should we also be responsible for determining what rights these machines may have? Where do you draw the line? The concept of free will is a huge theme in this book, as well as how to differentiate between a simple clock and a machine that may have some level of intelligence. How can you prove existence of thinking? Lack of proof does not prove a lack of existence.
And through the perspective of Jax, we gain understanding that these Clakkers are more than just machines. It is quite interesting having a Clakker POV, and can be eerily like human thinking at times. Not completely, but similar enough that the questions of freedom versus slavery, and what rights should these machines have need to be raised.
Our final perspective is linked to Jax’s and actually strengthens those questions as well. I really don’t want to say more as I think that storyline is probably best not knowing much before going in. But it can get incredibly dark and disturbing. It also raises a great number of questions about the technology used for Clakkers.
I don’t hesitate to recommend this one. It is very well paced, full of action, intrigue and great characters.
Audiobook note: Chris Kayser did a wonderful job with narration, he’s quite easy to listen to and the pronunciations and inflections all worked quite well. The story is also one that lends its self to a great listen.