Review: The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman

Review: The Lost Plot by Genevieve CogmanThe Lost Plot (The Invisible Library #4) by Genevieve Cogman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: alternate history, fantasy, libraries, steampunk
Series: Invisible Library #4
Pages: 367
Published by Ace Books on January 9th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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After being commissioned to find a rare book, Librarian Irene and her assistant, Kai, head to Prohibition-era New York and are thrust into the middle of a political fight with dragons, mobsters, and Fae.

In a 1920s-esque New York, Prohibition is in force; fedoras, flapper dresses, and tommy guns are in fashion: and intrigue is afoot. Intrepid Librarians Irene and Kai find themselves caught in the middle of a dragon political contest. It seems a young Librarian has become tangled in this conflict, and if they can't extricate him, there could be serious repercussions for the mysterious Library. And, as the balance of power across mighty factions hangs in the balance, this could even trigger war.

Irene and Kai are locked in a race against time (and dragons) to procure a rare book. They'll face gangsters, blackmail, and the Library's own Internal Affairs department. And if it doesn't end well, it could have dire consequences on Irene's job. And, incidentally, on her life...

My Review:

Like the rest of the Invisible Library series (start with the first book, The Invisible Library, and settle in for a marvelously good time!) The Lost Plot has a strong flavor of the old movie serial “The Perils of Pauline”. I would say “out of the frying pan and into the fire” but that phrase just isn’t sufficient to describe Librarian Irene Winters’ many (many, many) hair-raising adventures.

Either those frying pans are bubbling on top of an institutional sized range, with frying pans as far as the eye can see, or it’s an endless stack of frying pans on fires, getting progressively hotter as they go, all the way down.

Irene gets in trouble a lot. To put it another way, Irene has lots of adventures, in the sense that adventure is defined as something that happens to someone else, either long ago, far away, or both. I’d love to have a drink with her, but I wouldn’t want to be her.

In this particular entry in the series, Irene starts out attempting to carry out a simple retrieval mission for the Library. For once, she’s even planning to conduct it above board – buying the book the Library wants rather than just stealing it. This was her first mistake, but certainly not her last.

Irene’s last mistake is undoubtedly going to either be fatal or see her as the head of the Invisible Library – possibly both. But not yet. Nowhere near yet.

This time, Irene finds herself stuck in the middle of dragon politics, a situation that up until now she has carefully tried to avoid at all costs. But this time, as is usual for Irene, even though she doesn’t go looking for trouble, it inevitably finds her.

Getting involved in dragon politics might get her killed. And that might be the least bad of the many available possibilities. It’s almost certainly going to cost her relationship with her apprentice Kai. A relationship that Irene has attempted to keep as loosely defined as possible, because she doesn’t want to lose Kai in her life in any capacity, even though Kai is himself a dragon.

More dangerous all around is the possibility that in the fallout from this ever-growing clusterf**k, the Library will lose its not merely prized but absolutely vital neutrality in the endless conflict between the dragons and the fae, who respectively represent order and chaos. Because its only in the middle ground between those two vast forces that human beings can thrive. If the Library loses its neutrality through thoughtless political machinations (or Irene’s inability to counter those machinations) there’s not much hope left.

The needs of the many, as always, outweigh the needs of the view, or of the one. And it’s up to Irene to find a way to meet those needs, no matter what the cost is to herself.

Again.

Escape Rating A: I used the Star Trek paraphrase for multiple reasons. Irene is always at the sharp end of the spear, in danger of losing something (or many somethings) that she holds dear in order to preserve the balance. She’s always in a “mission impossible” situation, where the Library will cut her loose and disavow any knowledge of her actions if things go wrong.

But it’s the setting of this particular entry that really made me think of Star Trek. The alternate world in which Irene finds herself this time is an over-the-top version of America during Prohibition, complete with goons with “tommy guns” on every corner. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Original Series episode A Piece of the Action, which has a similar setting.

One of the interesting things about this series as a whole is the way that it has eschewed the traditional conflict between good and evil for the much more interesting and nuanced balancing act between order and chaos. This is the same battle that played out in Babylon 5, and illustrates yet again that neither of those forces are good or evil per se, but that extremes of both are bad for humanity.

Irene is as intrepid a heroine as ever, always running and dancing as fast as she can to stay a half step ahead of the doom that is inevitably following her. I absolutely love all of her adventures and can’t wait for more.

Reviewer’s Note: I loved this book, but it is difficult for me to review. It is one of the books that I read at my mother’s bedside while she was in hospice. I needed something that would take me mentally away from the circumstances but still leave me reasonably present for the inevitable. I got lost in The Lost Plot and it proved to be a perfect distraction.

Review: The Liberation by Ian Tregillis

Review: The Liberation by Ian TregillisThe Liberation (The Alchemy Wars, #3) by Ian Tregillis
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: alternate history, science fiction, steampunk
Series: Alchemy Wars #3
Pages: 464
Published by Orbit on December 6th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Set in a world that might have been, of mechanical men and alchemical dreams, this is the third and final novel in a stunning series of revolution by Ian Tregillis, confirming his place as one of the most original new voices in speculative fiction.
I am the mechanical they named Jax.
My kind was built to serve humankind, duty-bound to fulfil 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.
The final book in the Alchemy Wars trilogy by Ian Tregillis, an epic tale of liberation and war.

My Review:

The Liberation reminds me a bit of Rogue One. Not in the story, of course, those are nothing alike. But in the tone. Both stories are equally riveting, and both are equally, well, let’s call it not exactly going to bring a chuckle to your lips or a smile to your face.

(If you are already depressed, don’t go see Rogue One until you snap out of it. Unless you are a member of the “misery demands company” school of thought.)

The Liberation is all about ends, and means, and the absolute power that corrupts absolutely, until it is suddenly gone. And it is very much about all those errant chickens coming home to roost, and crapping all over everything.

This is a story where both heroism and villainy are found in the most unlikely people, and quite often even the very same people.

The world that the author has created in his Alchemy Wars trilogy is marvelous and complicated and deeply compelling. It is also a world that makes the reader think and re-think at every turn.

mechanical by ian tregillisIn my review of the first book in the trilogy, The Mechanical, I said that one of the tenets of the story seems to be that slavery, in its relentless drive to dehumanize its slaves, mostly serves to dehumanize the masters.

That’s what has happened here. The Clockmakers’ Guild of Amsterdam rules the known world, due to its invention and propagation of clakkers – machine servitors who are imbued with geasa and inhibited from developing free will of their own. Or so it seems.

The series is an exploration of just what happens when those supposedly mindless machines are freed from their controls. They are people. They have been people all along. And now that they can do whatever they want, what will happen?

Will they murder their former masters? Will they establish themselves as a separate country? Or will they continue to do their former jobs, hopefully for wages and other considerations? Or will they divide amongst themselves over the sudden influx of choice?

And what about the humans? The people of the Central Provinces, an empire centered on Amsterdam, no longer have any idea how to maintain their cities, or even themselves, without the help of the clakkers. And the rebels of New France have long labored to see the fall of the Dutch. With the help of the newly freed clakkers, they may get their fondest wish.

If the clakkers don’t choose to simply wipe humanity off the face of the Earth. Or worse.

rising by ian tregillisEscape Rating A-: The Alchemy Wars is a complex work, and a complicated world. In order to appreciate all of the gears and mechanisms that went into its creation, it is absolutely necessary to read the trilogy in order, from Jax’ acquisition of free will in The Mechanical to his desperate journeys to find a place he can be free, and safe. In The Rising he learns that there is no such place, and finds himself allied with the French in their last desperate stand, an alliance which accidentally frees all clakker-kind.

This entry in the series has three point-of-view characters. Jax, now known as Daniel, represents not all the clakkers, but the faction that wants to do good with their newly acquired free will, which they believe represents their souls. Berenice, the head of French intelligence, learns that her ends have not always justified her means. And even if they did, they come at a price too high to bear. Last is Anastasia Bell, the surviving head of the Dutch Clockmakers, who is forced to realize that she is presiding over the end of the world as she knows it.

Neither Berenice nor Anastasia are sympathetic figures. They are more anti-heroes than heroes. And they are each other’s nemeses. As each one sinks further and further into the dark, the other falls to meet her. Whether they can set aside their mutual animosity long enough to save even a sliver of the human race is always a gamble.

But between them, they created this mess. And it’s up to them, with Daniel’s help, to fix it. If they can. If it can be fixed at all. And if it can’t? Well, that’s their fault too.

This is a series that, while the action in it is enthralling, also makes the reader think. About slavery. And the cost of freedom. And the way that our assumptions and our prejudices blind us to the world that is actually around us. And that the evil that men (and women) do has a nasty way of coming around and biting them in the ass.

Review: The Rising by Ian Tregillis

Review: The Rising by Ian TregillisThe Rising (The Alchemy Wars, #2) by Ian Tregillis
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: alternate history, science fiction, steampunk
Series: Alchemy Wars #2
Pages: 480
Published by Orbit on December 1st 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The second book in the Alchemy Wars trilogy by Ian Tregillis, an epic tale of liberation and war. Jax, a rogue Clakker, has wreaked havoc upon the Clockmakers' Guild by destroying the Grand Forge. Reborn in the flames, he must begin his life as a free Clakker, but liberation proves its own burden.
Berenice, formerly the legendary spymaster of New France, mastermind behind her nation's attempts to undermine the Dutch Hegemony -- has been banished from her homeland and captured by the Clockmakers Guild's draconian secret police force.Meanwhile, Captain Hugo Longchamp is faced with rallying the beleaguered and untested defenders of Marseilles-in-the-West for the inevitable onslaught from the Brasswork Throne and its army of mechanical soldiers.

My Review:

mechanical by ian tregillisIf you like epic visions of alternate history, get yourself a copy of the first completely awesome story in The Alchemy Wars, The Mechanical (enthusiastically reviewed here) and be prepared to be transported to a world where mechanical men and women are much, much more human than the biological beings that created them. Becoming the proud possessors of a slave-race, or even being the embattled warriors against the power of those possessors, clearly knocks the humanity right out of any of the so-called humans involved.

The Rising is the second book in the author’s Alchemy Wars series, and it is every bit as absorbing, and even more grim, than the first book. But it isn’t just grim for grimness’ sake. This story needs to explore all the dark places of its world, and of the hearts of the people in it, before it will earn its conclusion. And while I hope situations improve, it isn’t necessary that they do for this story to work.

At least so far, this is a story about power corrupting, and absolute power corrupting absolutely. A place where the most desperate of ends are brought about by the vilest of means. There are times when it feels like a breakneck race to the bottom, where the clakkers may inherit the world only to discover that they are just as corrupted as their former masters.

But we’re not there yet, and the journey so far is one hell of an adventure.

There are three sides to this conflict, but the humans are only certain about two. The Dutch are taking over the world, using their clakker army. With a seemingly endless supply of military clakkers, the Dutch are rapidly closing in on the last bastion of human resistance, Marseilles-in-the-West, the beleaguered capital of New France. We see the defense of the city through the eyes of Captain Hugo Longchamp, a former sergeant and long-time military man who found himself an unexpected hero when he defeated a clakker single-handedly. While Hugo does not command the rump of the French Army, it is pretty clear that he is its only real military leader. He is going to defend his capital, his country, his religion and his king to his last breath, and plans to take as many clakkers out with him when he goes as is superhumanly possible. At the same time, he provides an incredibly realistic voice of a veteran soldier who is just so damned tired, but knows in his bones that he has to get up and fight another day, another hour, another minute.

While Hugo is stuck, and eventually besieged, in Marseilles-in-the-West, his former compatriot Berenice is travelling from North America to Europe and back again. Once upon a time, Berenice was New France’s spymaster. Now she is an exile, but she is still trying to find a way to suborn the clakkers into serving New France instead of the Dutch Brasswork Throne. She has absolutely no scruples whatsoever, only a desire to protect her country at any and all costs. She is completely amoral, and incredibly loyal, both at the same time.

While we don’t have a point of view character to represent the Dutch clakker-masters, the clakker Daniel, formerly known as Jax, seems to be the hero of this story. We follow Daniel’s journey as he escapes human control and discovers the fabled Neverland, home of the free clakkers, only to discover that the free clakkers aren’t nearly so free as myths make them.

In the end, Daniel finds himself back among the humans, in an uneasy alliance with Berenice as they each try to betray the other before the other does onto them. Who wins? Only time, and the next book in the series, will tell.

But whatever the answers turn out to be, just like the fable of Neverland, nothing will turn out to be the way it seems. And that’s awesome.

Escape Rating A: The Rising is even darker than The Mechanical, and every bit as compelling.

One of the things that keeps fascinating me is just how backwards the 1926 of the Alchemy Wars is. By 1926, we had airplanes, trains, electricity, steam power, increasing rights to vote in western democracies, fewer monarchies with real power, more democracy in general, more scientific development, and lots more. Telephones and telegraphs, the instantaneous communications revolution of the 1800s. The 1926 of the Alchemy Wars has very few of these things. In the Dutch Hegemony, scientific exploration seems to have stopped with the widespread use of clakkers. In New France, what research and development there is is devoted to stopping the clakkers. The world is going to hell in a handcart, and it seems to be picking up speed on the tracks.

The Tuniers’ Guild of the Dutch is frightening in the extreme. Not content with controlling all the clakkers, they have discovered a means to take away a human’s free will, in effect, turning that person into both a biological clakker and an unstoppable double-agent. Their clakkers, even enslaved, have way more humanity than the people who control them.

It makes sense that the story has no point of view character among the ruling Dutch. Their perspective of maintaining and extending the awful status quo, while creepily fascinating, isn’t nearly as interesting as the perspective of Berenice, who has fought them so long and so hard that she has nearly become them, or Hugo Longchamp, who is fighting the long defeat and knows he’s losing.

But it is Jax, now Daniel, whose journey is the most interesting, and who we follow. Jax begins as slave, and is accidentally freed. But as he moves from Dutch slave to French collaborator to clakker resistance fighter, we see his transformation from mechanical to human. And in its reflection we see all too many humans transform into mechanical monsters.