Blurb from Goodreads:
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.
You know that feeling? Where reading the last page leaves you blissfully fuzzy-headed and thinking, well, "Oh, gosh"? Yeah. I just came out on the other side of a couple of days spent with Ian Tregillis' The Mechanical, and I'm dizzy.
In a good way.
It's hard to compete with textured and well-written alternate history. I don't actually care one way or the other about the steampunk markers - zeppelins and impractical clothes and that stuff. They are in this book, but only as reasonable pieces of a world that contains things that are much more interesting. Like robots. And robot zeppelins. Who made the first robots? Huygens did. Was it by the power of physics? Yes! And alchemy!
The Netherlands, then, is a natural superpower in this world - they are the masters of incredibly powerful technology, after all. We find France and the pope as the opposing force, though the actual France was lost a long time ago, and the king is now seated in Marseilles-in-the-West, north of New Amsterdam. There is no significant mention of any other nations, but I fully expect them to appear in later books.
Because, yes, this book is a series starter. I had somehow managed to forget that, until the end of the book was starting to get very close without leaving room for all the closure I wanted. So, of course, series starter. I'm telling you, because I was undeniably cranky about not getting the end of the storyline of one of the characters I was most interested in - but it's not really the book's fault. You should always go into a series starter prepared for this kind of thing. (And of course all this is an intensely positive review; after 471 pages, I most definitely had not had enough.)
Jax the servitor clakker is taken along with his owners across from Europe to the New World. Free will is rather unexpectedly granted to him, but...then what? He should make his way for New France at once, where at least the humans believe the mechanical men have souls - so of course they'll help and protect him from the Dutchmen and their clakker armies. Right?
I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to anyone who loves Blade Runner replicants or whose favourite Star Trek characters were Data or the doctor. Or anyone who thinks a twist on science history sounds fun. Who has spent time thinking about how Isaac Newton fiddled with alchemy next to all the other things he did. Oh, any reader enthusiastic about robots. Right? I actually had some thoughts about Asimov while reading this, though I'm almost sure he'd disapprove of the not-exactly-hard-science part of the robot construction.
So, of course, if you know you'd have the same complaint, move along. If alchemy doesn't hinder your enjoyment of fiction, though? Add it to your reading list.