• The Mechanical

  • The Alchemy Wars
  • By: Ian Tregillis
  • Narrated by: Chris Kayser
  • Length: 15 hrs and 45 mins
  • 4.2 out of 5 stars (969 ratings)

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The Mechanical  By  cover art

The Mechanical

By: Ian Tregillis
Narrated by: Chris Kayser
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Publisher's Summary

From "a major new talent" (George R. R. Martin) comes an epic speculative novel of revolution, adventure, and the struggle for free will set in a world that might have been, of mechanical men and alchemical dreams.

My name is Jax.

That is the name granted to me by my human masters.

I am a slave.

But I shall be free.

©2015 Ian Tregillis (P)2014 Hachette Audio

What listeners say about The Mechanical

Average Customer Ratings
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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

I HOPE YOU'LL EXCUSE MY DULL WIT

CLOCKMAKERS LIE
The COMPLEX GEOMETRY and MOSIAC words were beautiful at times, but a little distracting for this simpleton. THE BONE AND MEAT MASTERS were excessively mean in their treatment of the servant robots. If the story would have remained with THE MECHANICAL and his struggles, I would have been intrigued. The foul mouth queen was also an interesting character. All put together, like a Kevin Anderson Saga, caused my mind to boggle. Various political systems of several strange countries and the lack of focus on one central character, caused my circuits to fry.

41 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Better when he is not *earnestly* overwriting

This was OK. I enjoyed "Something more than night" that was just a full of high-falutin' purple prose, but where the ridiculous overwriting was meant in fun.

In this book, the verdigris-encrusted phrasing is still here, but it's all high-falutin' philosophical themes of cartesian dualism explored through characters getting tortured to death. If that's what you want, you may as well read Peter Watts' Echopraxia and at least have a dose of hard science to give the narrative contemporary relevance. Having the same ideas explored with a deliberately non-scientific steampunk setting gives the entire thing an sadistic overtone, in which you can't even hide behind educational benefit to justify your complicity in the whole thing.

Still, it has cool robots with glowing heads, and is the first book I've ever read that actually made Spinoza sound interesting, so that's a thing I guess.

15 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Good, but too unrelentingly dark

Interesting worldbuilding, interesting characters. It is also one long tale of urelenting misery being inflicted on those characters with no letup or breathing space worth mentioning listened to this in chunks over weeks because it just got depressing

12 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Great book that goes nowhere.

Any additional comments?

I would have given this book a perfect score if it wasn't the first part in an apparently very long series. It is well written with interesting ideas and fun, if somewhat small, fictional world. But...

Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, gets resolved in this book. The character end up in the exact same place they started. Their big "triumph" is more of an accident then any action of the characters. And it's not even fair to call it a triumph as it doesn't change anything in the world.

The problem is the premise of this book, while clever, is not substantive enough to maintain a 17 book series or whatever the heck the Ian has planed. Things start to get repetitive towards the end as the story just starts to tread water. The main character are a little grating and unlikable. I mean they are fine enough for one book but spending a series with them does not seem like a pleasant experience.

If you are like me you'll find this book eating a tub of cotton candy. It's pleasant at first but by the time you reach the bottom of the tub you are a little sick of it and are feeling very unsatisfied.

7 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Worth the time investment

Tregillis is a bit of a chameleon when it comes to style. Having enjoyed "Something More Than Night" a mashup of Dashiel Hammett detective noir and Aquinas hierarchy of angels, this took a little getting used to. The style was very different - a much slower and languid story building tension that you kept waiting to be unleashed. It was written for an earlier era with the occasional flash of modern coarseness and action. Early on I contemplated walking away, but I stayed with the story. I was very glad I did as things began to coalesce into a riveting story surrounding what it means to be human and the nature of sentience. I eagerly await the sequels and marvel at the range Tregellis nimbly navigates in his "fusion fiction" mixing period piece manners, fantasy, alternative history, science fiction and philosophical meditation. He is like that chic chef mixing cuisines and concepts into something very interesting and tasty. Sometimes it takes time, but is worth the wait. This did and it was.

5 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Something for every stripe of scienc fiction fan.

Finally something new and engaging in a genre that has become fixated on the science at the expense of the fiction. Without burdening the reader with gibberish technological details, the author has a spun wonderful story that melds fantasy and sci-fi and alternate history in a way that seems at once to be both realistic and fanciful. Kudos go to the narrator as well. Performing a piece that combines many nuanced characters in conjunction with robotic voices is no small task but he pulls it off masterfully. Big thumbs up!

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

A world of hurt

Non stop action. Brutal agony all around. Tregillis must live in a world of nastiness steeped in pain. This certainly emphasized the alter reality of the novel. Kaysers narration of the mechanical and his on purpose mispronunciations also used to great effect.

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Unrelenting violence (torture, abuse)

I gave this book 8+hours wanting to follow the main character but I just couldn't take anymore. I like steampunk, fantasy, Dutch history (thank you AP history and Neal Stephenson ) and don't mind suspense or battles. I've even listened to Mercy Thompson, Jane yellowrock and Honor Harrington which can all get violent.

It is very rare for me to return a book. I did not return it because of the narrator, but the story itself.
This book only has 2 types of characters
(1) characters being tortured
(2) characters to minor to be tortured
And even more fun when they are not being tortured the main characters are morally compromising themselves, hiding, or being sexually abused (men and women).
If you thought 24 and Empire Boardwalk were almost your thing, but could have been better if it had been even grittier and tons of arcane Dutch history and names (placed & objects) were thrown in. Then you might like this book. the writer delivers an interesting world but to much of the plot is washed away in gushing blood, waste and agony for me.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

First-rate world- and character-building

I couldn’t stop marveling at the incredible world that Tregillis has created for this novel. The setting is our current world, I am guessing the 1920s. However, in the world of this book, England never became a superpower, never colonized North America (or anywhere else, evidently). Rather, the Dutch are the dominant European power, opposed only by a pale remnant of the French monarchy living in exile in Marseille-in-the-West (which we would know as Montreal).

One thing I greatly appreciated was the subtle and gradual manner in which this alternate history is revealed. Having attempted to listen to The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu immediately prior to picking up The Mechanical, I couldn’t help comparing the writing styles of the two authors. Liu’s book felt like I was reading the litany of ancestors from the Bible while simultaneously being force-fed a master’s thesis on the history of obscure Chinese dynasties—all of it made up! I quit Grace of Kings after just one hour because it was so boring.

The Mechanical was a completely different experience. Rather than bore his readers with page after page of background on the world he has imagined, Tregillis reveals small tidbits of information here and there, always leaving us wanting more. One way this is done is via short quotes from made-up reference texts, such as:

“See Cook [op.cit.] for a discussion of Huygens’s unusual wartime visit to Cambridge and the Royal Society. His philosophical contretemps with Isaac Newton in 1675 (referenced in Society minutes as “The Great Corpuscular Debate”) would mark the last significant intellectual discourse between England and the continent prior to the chaos of the Interregnum and the Annexation . . . Some Newton biographers [Winchester (1867), &c] indicate Huygens may have used his sojourn in Cambridge to access Newton’s alchemical journals and that key insights derived thusly may have been instrumental to Huygens’s monumental breakthrough. However, cf. Hooft [1909] and references therein for a critique of the forensic alchemy underlying this assertion. From Freeman, Thomas S., A History of the Pre-Annexation England from Hastings to the Glorious Revolution, 3 Vols. New Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1918.”

Another huge difference between the two books is that The Grace of Kings has virtually no female characters, while The Mechanical features an amazing female protagonist who begins the story as the Tallyrand for the King of France in exile. In this role she seduces, tortures and makes decisions that impact the lives of, well, of practically everyone in New France.

“Oh, for crying out loud," she said. "Were you fools any more chivalrous I'd surely swoon on the spot and damage my uterus.”

The Tallyrand, along with the other two main characters—the Mechanical Jax and Father Vissers—each have character arcs that take them 180 degrees from where they begin to where they end up. Vissers begins the book as a French-sympathizing Catholic priest masquerading as a Protestant minister. His life journey allows Tregillis to examine the religious turmoil and consequences of Dutch hegemony and reliance on the slave labor of the Clakkers. Jax’s story brings up the slave’s point of view and also questions of free will.

I have to give a shout out to the nice touches of steampunk that dot the story without overpowering it. For instance, here’s a description of a stained-glass window:

“Raindrops misted the Ridderzal’s immense rosette window. Water dripped from the architectural tracery that turned the window into a stained glass cog. It streaked the colored panes of oculi and quatrefoils depicting the empire’s arms: a rosy cross surrounded by the arms of the great families all girded by the teeth of the universal cog.”

Which brings me to another wonderful aspect of Tregillis’s writing: he uses sounds and smells to great effect.

“The Stemwinders made the most bizarre ratcheting sound, like the stripping of gears combined with the metallic whine of an overstressed steel cable.”

“The wind fluttering the pennants atop the outer keep and teasing Berenice’s hair carried the loamy smell of damp earth, the fresh scent of the river, and, even now, a ghostly chemical astringency. The miasma wafted from the battlefield.”

“The clockwork men and women fated to maneuver the oars twenty-four hours per day until the ship reached its destination had turned their silent voices to song as they bent their backs to row. They sang not in any human language but in the secret language of the mechanicals. A shanty sung in the click-tick-click of clockwork bodies, the crash of tapped feet, the clatter of metal hands gripping banded wooden spars.”

Also cannot end this review without saying that Tregillis writes hands-down the best swearing ever sworn by any characters in literature. Really made me laugh every time one of the characters let rip another tirade of blue. Here’s one of my favorites:

“You greasy shit stain on a diseased elk’s warty asshole.”

[I listened to this as an audio book excellently read by Chris Kayser.]

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Maybe for some but not for me. I

Struggled to get through it, I kept hoping it would get better. The themes were repetitive and the characters one-dimensional. Also I have an issue because the alternate world history didn't seem to hang together.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Alicia Rose Audi
  • 04-22-22

great story with great narration

this series is amazing. I read the paper format but I like re-"reading" books I enjoy. I listened to this every day and can't wait to continue with the second

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Cormac
  • 06-17-19

Brilliant series

Loved it. If you like stuff like Ann Leckie you might like this (as I loved both!) hope that helps