War overshadows this second volume of an alternate-world trilogy (The Mechanical, 2015) set a few hundred years after the Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens blended clockwork and alchemy to create the robotic Clakkers.
The Dutch and their legions of Clakkers are preparing an assault against Marseilles-in-the-West, the Canadian seat of the Kingdom of France-in-Exile. Capt. Hugo Longchamp struggles to assemble a sufficient defense against the Dutch incursion, knowing that it’s doomed to fail. The ruthless, rash Berenice Charlotte de Mornay-Périgord, formerly New France’s spymaster until a dreadful miscalculation, pursues both revenge and redemption by attempting to penetrate the secrets of the Clakkers’ metageasa. If she can understand the hierarchical programming that enslaves the Clakkers, she can then twist their loyalty from Dutch to French. And Jax, the freed Clakker desperately fleeing his many enemies, finally reaches Neverland and discovers the truth about the fabled community of rogue Clakkers and its sinister ruler, Queen Mab. Meanwhile, Luke Visser, the French spy and priest forcibly modified by alchemical surgery into an assassin against his own people, threatens to strike again. The chases, the battles, the brutal violence, and the scheming are nonstop. As always, Tregillis offers richly textured and genuinely likable personalities with shades-of-gray morality; it's clearly no accident that the most purely good person in the novel is the mechanical Jax, although even his sterling qualities are severely tested by the terrible situations he faces. Middle volumes are always tricky; they can often read as an obstacle to overcome on the way to the forgone conclusion of the third installment. Tregillis commendably avoids this trap, deepening his story and keeping it moving along toward an unknown horizon.
Part 3 can't come too soon.