Top positive review
fitting conclusion to the series
Reviewed in the United States on January 17, 2017
I am a huge fan of this series and this author. I love how Ian Trigellis manages to take a discussion of philosophy and free will and actually turn it into something interesting to read. (I normally loathe reading philosophy...I am a scientist by training and I think I prefer concrete answers to speculation about the unknowable. Perhaps because Trigellis is also a scientist, he has made the philosophy accessible to me in a way other authors can't. Anyway, don't worry, this book is not a treatise. There is a lot of action, there is tension, there's an interesting world, there's plot, and there are well-developed characters. Some of my non-technically-inclined online acquaintances are fans of the series as well.
You really need to start with book 1 ("The Mechanical") of the series rather than jumping in here. Characters, both human and mechanical, are introduced and developed in the first two books. But those books are a lot of fun to read and well worth your time. There will be spoilers for the first two volumes here because they are kind of unavoidable when discussing this book.
I suppose I'll dive right into why I gave this book four stars instead of five. A day after finishing, there is just one thing that's bothering me a bit. The main villain is a clockwork/mechanical construct named Mab. I'm just having trouble understanding what drives her. We end book two with a large group of mechanicals being given free will, with the instructions that make them subservient to humans essentially erased. And we see examples of how the mechanicals react to this new situation. To me, they are very human sorts of reactions based in human emotions: guilt, revenge, fear, curiosity, indifference, etc. Perhaps this reflects the human nature of their creators. At any rate, I therefore have come to expect human sorts of reactions from the mechanicals.
But Mab isn't like that. She (she's referred to as "Queen Mab" in the book) does seek revenge against humans, but she also seeks to control all the other mechanicals. She has reconstructed her body into something many of the other mechanicals find monstrous (mixing parts from various models). I suppose madness has been floated as a possibility. At one point, some Dutch scientists are trying to flee a city and they run into a mechanical that has degenerated into madness in some sewer tunnels. It is possible that he was included in the story to teach the Dutch scientists that their creations, the mechanicals, are more complex than they (the Dutch) realize (there are other instances of this, as well, such as the discovery that the mechanicals have their own language). But I keep coming back to him when thinking about Mab. Was he a clue that Mab is simply insane?
At any rate, I think what is bothering me is that I just don't care for villains who are insane or whose motivation I don't understand. If Mab only wanted to hurt humans, I could buy a revenge motive. But she wants to control everyone, human and mechanical alike, so that breaks down. Anyway, I think I'm just writing now, hoping my musings will help me sort out the situation, but I don't think that's going to happen today.
The rest of the book is great, though, and quite enjoyable to read. We visit both the Old World (primarily The Hague) and the New World (New Marseilles as well as what would be the Canadian wilderness in our version of the world). I very much enjoy the worldbuilding in this series. I don't often read alternate history (and this book straddles the line between science fiction and fantasy, I think), but I feel that a lot of research and thought went into how the world would have changed if clockwork men really *had* been developed by the Dutch. Lots of little details, from the positions of the Church to the development of alternate technologies (e.g., chemical weapons for the French) add richness to the world. And they're quite well-integrated.
The writing is great. I feel that the individual characters have their own voices (even when Berenice isn't using foul language -- her potty mouth could be a crutch for some authors, but I don't think it is here), their own styles of thinking. Not a lot of authors can pull that off. Action is generally well-described. There isn't excessive description or infodumping and what details there are serve to set the scene or further the narrative in meaningful ways.
The level of science is just right. Trigellis doesn't try to come up with explanations for everything (and I don't think anyone really could) but he gives us enough pieces of the puzzle to help us understand events.
Many characters you will know from previous books. We have Berenice, a French spymaster who is back in her King's good graces after helping save New Marseilles at the end of book 2. In book 1, she made a series of bad (and somewhat selfish) decisions. She somewhat continued in that vein in book 2. But she has an "a-ha" moment in this book that is quite transformative. It is not often you see that in book 3 of a series with an established character. We have Daniel, our primary window into the world view of a mechanical, and he retains his nature throughout. His transformation was in book 1.
Another major viewpoint character is Anastasia Bell, a Dutch scientist/engineer who has worked on projects related to the mechanicals. She's appeared in past books but has not been center stage before. However, she is needed here. A lot is going on in The Hague and a human perspective is required since the mechanicals there are either murderous or still subservient (lacking free will). She was a good choice -- she was never in charge before, and it had to be someone who knew a little about the mechanicals but clearly not everything, someone who may have been blinded by pride in her work and certainty in her convictions before, who is confronted with something she never envisioned could happen.
Anyway, the POV characters were well done. There was appropriate danger and tension in each of their plotlines; you did not know who would make it out and who wouldn't. This book has quite a lot of action though it's not a pitched battle to defend the homeland as in book 2.
In the end, I loved almost everything about this book. This is the end of a series and I'm not sure there is anywhere to go after the conclusion of this novel, but I did enjoy it and am now going on to explore some more of Trigellis's work.