Book Reviews

Book Review: The Liberation (The Alchemy Wars #3), by Ian Tregillis

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The Liberation (The Alchemy Wars #3)

By: Ian Tregillis

Published: December 6, 2016

The Rundown: “I am the mechanical they named Jax.  My kind was built to serve humankind, duty-bound to fulfill their every whim.  But now our bonds are breaking, and my brothers and sisters are awakening.  Our time has come.  A new age is dawning.”

Don’t Get Strung Out by the Way I Look: The Mechanical’s cover depicted a silhouette of a man with a gear in his head.  The Rising showed a mechanical’s clenched fist, with a gear in it, engulfed in flame.  The Liberation just has a gear in the center of the cover.  In comparison to the other covers, this one seems lazy.  I suppose they figured that the only people who’d pick up the third book in the series were the people who’d already read the first two, so they didn’t need to bother attracting new readers.

What a Wonderful World: In the 1660s, Christiaan Huygens invented alchemically controlled mechanical men dubbed “Clakkers.”  The loyalty of the Clakkers was ensured by geas branded into their souls, causing severe pain if the directives were not obeyed.  The Dutch used the Clakkers to establish hegemony over the majority of the world.  Their only remaining opponent is the French, who have fled to the Louisiana Territories.  Recently—in 1926—the Rogue Clakker Daniel used his own alchemy to free the enslaved Clakkers.  Unsurprisingly, many of the Clakkers want revenge.

The Good Guys: This story has two protagonists: Berenice, the French spymaster, and Anastasia Bell, the chief of The Guild’s secret police.  Strangely, the mechanical Daniel, protagonist of the first two novels in The Alchemy Wars, is barely present in this one.

Anastasia: Though Anastasia was the antagonist of the first two books, she is the protagonist of this one.  Rogue Clakkers have attacked Dutch territories, and it is up to Anastasia to find a way to defeat them.   While Anastasia manages to rebuff the initial attack on The Hague, she does little else throughout the rest of the story that the Rogues do not allow her to do.  Well, she pees a lot.  No, seriously, she pisses herself on three separate occasions, and once manages to throw up in her own face.  Keep in mind that Anastasia is the chief of the secret police.  She has witnessed torture on numerous occasions.  She has casually order the execution of The Guild’s political opponents.  She has participated in gruesome human experimentation.  Now, apparently, whenever she sees a wee bit of violence she wets herself.  In the first two books, Anastasia was ruthless and terrifying.  Now, she’s the incompetent comic relief.

Berenice: Now that New France is no longer threatened by the Dutch, Berenice should ostensibly be trying to build alliances with the newly freed Clakkers, gathering intel on those who may pose a threat, etc.  Her kingdom needs to consolidate power, and quickly, if they are to survive in the new world order.  Instead, Berenice decides to take a trip with Daniel and his friends into Quebec to find out what something called “quintessence” is.  It’s not quite clear why she does this, because she has better things to do.  I suppose the plot demanded it.  Anyway, in Berenice’s journey she learns that she is just like the evil Anastasia Bell.  The similarities between the two characters had been elucidated in The Rising, but apparently Tregillis really wanted to drill it into the readers’ heads.  Maybe he thought we’re all stupid.

The Bad Guy: Queen Mab, leader of the Lost Boys—the original Rogue Clakkers—is bent on reducing humanity to slavery.  She’s a Clakker, and wants revenge for the treatment of her kind.  Mab, like Daniel, is barely in the book, instead directing the actions of the other Rogues from afar.  Mab is particularly vile because she re-enslaves some of the freed Clakkers who don’t agree with her politics, forcing them to do her bidding.  Like Berenice, she’s supposed to be just as bad as Anastasia Bell.

Freedom!: I liked that the Dutch finally got what was coming to them.  It could have been done in a more interesting way.  The Guild could have remained a creepy force, dangerous to be reckoned with.  We could have seen more of the lives of ordinary Dutch.  But yeah, I’m glad it happened.

Involuntary Brain Surgery: This story should be about the struggle between the two factions of freed Clakkers.  Daniel and his faction want to live alongside the humans, while Mab and her people want to take revenge by enslaving and killing humans.  Obviously, Daniel is in the right, but Mab’s camp does raise good points.  Can what the Dutch did truly be forgiven?  Can an oppressed group coexist with their oppressors?  In the face of enslavement and murder, is forgiveness really a viable option?  Daniel never answers these questions, because he’s barely in the story.  Instead, the story focuses on two human characters, former enemies brought together by the threat of the freed Clakkers.  To be perfectly honest, the whole thing reads like a propaganda piece written in the 19th century about how freeing the African-American slaves would result in a “white genocide.”

Does it Represent…

Women: The two protagonists, and the antagonist, are female.  This is surprising, given that this is a book by a male author aimed at both a male and a female audience.  However, what happens to all of these characters at the end of the novel, and why what happened is “necessary,” has unfortunate implications.  There’s also a Clakker named Lilith, who’s hell-bent on revenge, and a tough soldier named Élodie Chastain.  A good portion of the minor characters are also female.

People of Color: There’s a Naskapi man who’s been experimented on by Queen Mab, and there’s a Spanish man and a Persian woman in the Guild.  However, there are no major characters of color.  What’s really weird is that there are no black characters.  The timeline of the novel diverges from the normal timeline in the 1660s; there were plenty of black slaves in the New World by then.  Why are they never mentioned?  It just seems off that this is a story about slavery, set in America, written by an American author, that doesn’t address the slavery of African-Americans.

LGBT People: Anastasia is a lesbian.  She has a flirtation with her nurse Rebecca, but that’s over as soon as Rebecca finds out that Anastasia is the head of the secret police.  There’s a married lesbian couple in Berenice’s quintessence expedition, too.  I liked how even though this is the 1920s, all the characters are more accepting of LGBT people than most contemporary Americans.

The Disabled: Berenice had an eye gauged out in The Mechanical; now she wears a patch.  Pastor Visser’s mind has been shattered by his experiences as a slave of The Guild.  There’s an unnamed Clakker who has been driven insane by years of ceaseless, repetitive toil.  Most of the Clakkers who are still enslaved by The Guild have had their eyes removed, because doing so prevents their being freed.

Memorable Quote: “Clockmakers lie.”

Recommended for: People who, having started the series, feel the need to complete it.  They shouldn’t bother, though.  It’s a total letdown.

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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