Prime Books 2008
This is a beautiful and terrifying book. It is very definitely it’s own story. I wish I could say what it’s like. It’s revolutionary like The Hunger Games but it’s not at all like that. It’s about what it means to be human like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? but it’s not at all like that. It’s a fantasy of alchemy like The Mistress of Spices but it’s not at all like that.
E. Sedia in one short novel establishes a world and then tears it apart. There are themes like those above but also loyalty and betrayal. There is the exploration of progress versus esthetics. She touches on the role of religion as one of the upholding pillars of society. She evokes the courtier versus the commoner. She even hints at the importance of sexual identity.
The main character is a machine. In a world where the two largest political powers are the alchemists and the mechanics her creator is a mechanic. Still he allows her (though we find she may have manipulated him) to apprentice to an alchemist and thus become a member of the other opposing faction. Both Mattie (our heroine) and her maker Loharri tend to be more reasonable and centrist than their party line. However they are each also very devoted to their political factions, as much or more than they are devoted to each other.
But that makes it sound like a book of politics when it’s really a book about autonomy. Mattie has free will and has been declared independent. Still Loharri has programmed her to continue to depend upon him and retains the sole ability to “wind her up” when she runs down. Mattie’s legal status versus her actual status is reflected with her friendship with Niobe another alchemist but a foreigner to the city.
The court’s role in the drama is a position of figurehead. But it is the existence of the court that prevents one political faction from overrunning the other. The authority of the court comes from the semi mythological gargoyles. These creatures of stone created the city originally. They are tended to by the Stone Monks. They are failing as a race and come to Mattie to ask for her help.
Another interesting character is the Soul – Smoker. This is a religious character who stands like a traditional shaman outside of the society. He deals with the souls that refuse to pass. Literally attracting them with opium and smoking them into himself. He carries all these souls within him until he dies and then his soul moving on leads the others to follow.
All that talk and none of it tells you anything about the book. It’s lovely and horrible. It’s intriguing and thought provoking. It is not high literature, but it is well written. If you find this sort of thing interesting you’d probably really enjoy this book.