I don’t read a lot of Steampunk. I don’t hate it or anything, I’m just not a gadget person, so the details of dirigibles and steam engines bore me. I feel much the same way about gun-porn SF: I love space opera, but I will skim the schematics of missiles, torpedoes, or super-sekrit death rays.
In The Mechanical, Ian Tregillis stirs a heaping helping of alchemy into his Steampunk, to present a meditation on the nature of free will and the soul coated in a thin candy shell of alt-history adventure. The plot is nominally political, a war of both ideas and technology, spanning the ocean, but it’s really about slavery, human dignity, and morality.
It took me a little time to get into the book. I found the first couple of chapters a bit slow, but it picked up quickly–a major plot point boosted the pace–and raised interesting questions. This is apparently the first of a trilogy, which seems to be a thing in SFF these days and is a major weakness of The Mechanical, I suspect. If the story does not pick up where it left off, then book one need a couple of more chapters. If it does, then I would rather have one solid, complete book then three parts that just end in mid-air.
2016 Hugo Eligibility: Yes, March 2015
Publisher: Orbit, USA
Genre: Steampunk Fantasy Alt-History