Fiction Reviews

The Liberation

(2016) Ian Tregillis, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, 439pp, ISBN 978-0-356-50234-2


Now this was fun. The Liberation rounds out Ian Tregillis’ 'Alchemy Wars' trilogy that began with The Mechanical, and does so with some panache.  The usual caveats about reading the first books first apply (you can read reviews elsewhere on this site) since jumping in at the two thirds point will be a) confusing and b) a waste, since there are two other books to enjoy and reading this one first will lead to spoilers.

The basics: this is steampunk. A world where clockwork servants are animated by alchemy and controlled by heavy restrictions, or geas. But then the ‘clakkers’ break free of their constraints, start to believe they have souls, and begin to turn on their former masters.

So this is post-apocalypse, steampunk-style, in a world where the Dutch and the French have carved things out between them but now face a new, mechanical enemy that has the potential to wipe them all out. The Mechanicals have a Mad Queen Mab stirring them on to ever greater atrocities and misdeeds, from her Northern home in Neverland supported by her grotesquery of ‘lost boys’. All very Peter Pan, and this book has a similarly adventurous feel to it. Then there is the mechanical’s saviour, Jax, now reborn as Daniel and treated by his followers as a messiah, leading the new free souls of the clakkers to an uncertain future.

Old favourites from the previous books reappear: the foul-mouthed one-eyed Berenice, New France’s Talleyrand, or spy supreme, now working with Daniel to restore order. And Anastasia, the Dutch Tunier, or clockmaker’s enforcer – ruthless, witty and probably the last credible opposition to Queen Mab’s murderous clakkers.

The action takes place on two continents, with Berenice chasing down Queen Mab in North America and Anastasia fighting an increasingly desperate defence against rogue clakkers in The Hague. For the Dutch, the loss of the clakkers means they will need to develop an entirely new way of life – can they survive without servants? Have they gone soft? For the French, who in previous books had been fighting and losing a war with the Dutch, initial relief turns to fear. Only the Dutch had clakker servants: without them, their wartime advantage disappeared. But clakkers do not really differentiate between Dutch humans and French humans. And then – delicious irony – the clakkers find a way to use alchemy to control humans. Only Berenice, Daniel and Anastasia stand between the rogues and genocide.

Liberation is very much about the newly free clakkers coming of age, deciding what kind of creatures they want to be and how they can fit in a world full of their former masters. It provides the rare feat of rounding out the series in a satisfying way and leaving you wanting more. Enjoyable.

Mark Bilsborough

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