Audiobook Review: The Rising by Ian Tregillis
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Series: Book 2 of The Alchemy Wars
Publisher: Hachette Audio (12/1/15)
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Narrator: Chris Kayser | Length: 12 hrs 47 min
I loved Ian Tregillis’ The Mechanical, and I’m pleased to report the sequel does not disappoint. Although I still have to give edge to the first book—mainly because the impact it had on me was so profound and unexpected—The Rising takes up the baton and carries on running at full throttle, ramping up the action while still keeping the themes of historical fantasy and existential philosophy at the forefront.
The Alchemy Wars series is part fantasy, part alternate history and part steampunk, bringing together magic and mechanical men before a backdrop set in the early 1900s. France and the Netherlands are at war, with the Dutch having the upper hand thanks to the might of their clockwork automaton army. The Rising picks up where The Mechanical left off, with former spymaster Berenice exiled in disgrace and Jax the rogue Clakker on the run from his mechanical brethren who are still enslaved to their Dutch masters. Meanwhile, Captain Hugo Longchamp has taken over the defenses of Marseilles-in-the-West, France’s stronghold in the new world.
Most of the story in this second volume is told through the perspectives of these three characters, following the development of the conflict on multiple fronts. The war takes center stage, with the Dutch army of mechanicals preparing a full on assault. Berenice is an escaped prisoner fleeing from enemy lands while attempting to uncover the secrets of the alchemical sigils that power the Clakker geasa. Longchamp’s chapters throw readers in the thick of things, following his efforts to protect the French king and to recruit more men and women to the cause. However, it is Jax with the most bizarre quest of all, as he makes his way deeper into the northern wilderness and stumbles upon Neverland, the fabled community of rogue mechanicals ruled by their leader Queen Mab.
The Rising distinguishes itself from its predecessor by being more fast-paced and action-oriented. The intrigue and violence comes at you nonstop, and in fact, almost all of Longchamp’s sections are characterized by heavy, protracted battle sequences. I’m all for action, don’t get me wrong—but ironically I can’t help but feel that this was what made this sequel comparatively less compelling than The Mechanical, which was more subdued but also deeper and more cerebral. Still, I loved The Rising because of its strengths in different areas; I for one greatly enjoyed how this novel takes us on a detour down a wilder and more explosive path.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t get any of the heartfelt philosophical questions and existential discourse, because we do—and that’s most apparent when you look at the transformation in Jax’s character as he examines his own identity and purpose. The more I read, the more I’m starting to think of The Alchemy Wars as being Jax’s series, even though he is only one of many key players. From the moment he achieved release from his geas, his journey has been an exploration into the meaning of free will and its significance for moral responsibility. Discovering Neverland in this book is another turning point for his character, and this eye-opening experience subsequently leads to many far-reaching consequences.
Finally, we have Berenice, who is a classic Tregillis protagonist. By that, I mean she is fascinating, complicated, and wonderfully flawed. And like a lot of Tregillis characters, she has also been put through the wringer. Berenice’s motivations have been shaped by an extremely painful and traumatic experience from the first book, and the guilt from that event drives her still. So when the dark side of her personality emerges, it’s hard not to sympathize even if you disagree with her methods. Though her investigations into horologist secrets may ultimately help Clakkers gain their freedom, never doubt for a moment that this is a lady with violence on her mind and vengeance in her heart. Complex characters like her are what makes Ian Tregillis’ books such fun to read.
Additional thoughts on the audiobook: I opted to try the audio edition of The Rising because of the positive reviews I saw for The Mechanical audiobook. This is the first time I’ve ever listened to an audiobook read by narrator Chris Kayser, and for the most part I think he delivered a good performance, other than a few words he kept mispronouncing (I’ve never heard someone say “chimera” like that). I also found it jarring that he would say almost all the French names and other French words in the correct accent and pronunciation, with one major exception—Longchamp (I’m from Canada, I can’t help but notice these things). It’s probably an intentional choice, and in truth it was more amusing than annoying; overall it didn’t impact my enjoyment of the book, but it was distracting enough that I’m torn as to whether or not I want to continue with the audio for the next installment. I’m just being picky though, and I’m sure it’ll be fine for others.
In short, I can’t find too many faults with this book. Tregillis bides his time in this second act, bringing things slowly to a boil, yet action scenes are heavier and more frequent, and if that’s what you prefer then you might find you’ll enjoy The Rising even more than The Mechanical! The ending’s cliffhanger was expected, but no less powerful and effective in making me yearn for the next in the series. The Alchemy Wars is not to be missed.