The Alchemy Wars series, by Ian Tregillis, has consistently surpassed my expectations over the last three years. The Mechanical, The Rising, and The Liberation have all been great, and each sequel improves on the previous in small ways. For those of you unfamiliar with the series, you can find reviews of books one and two here. The story is about an ongoing conflict between the Dutch, the global superpower, and the French, the only holdouts of Dutch world conquest. The Dutch have an army of mechanical servants, soldiers, and marvels that have made them basically untouchable – and the French have invented a range of chemical weapons to try and counter them.
The final book in the series follows the same pattern as the previous, with two POVs belonging to Jax (a Dutch mechanical), Berenice (a French spy), and a third new perspective. Our new POV for The Liberation is finally from the Dutch side, giving us an insightful POV into the final conflict from all angles. It is always hard to talk about a final book in a series without giving spoilers, but the final books does everything I could want from the end of a series. The characters in The Alchemy Wars are fascinating, Berenice in particular. Tregillis is really good at character growth, and it is a joy to watch his creations change as the books go on. They are shaped by tragedy and success, and some of them become stronger, and some of them break. The entire cast feels so organic and real that I might have to admit Tregillis is one of the strongest character writers I have ever read.
In addition, the tech throughout the series only gets cooler. It feels like Tregillis has some awesome new piece of machinery or science to show you every few chapters in all three books, making the entire series exciting and thrilling to read constantly. One thing I really appreciate is that steampunk often feels like a polarizing genre, with some people absolutely hating it. However, The Alchemy Wars does a great job being appealing to everyone by moving the steampunk awesomeness to the background and focusing on a thrilling historical fiction plot with incredible characters.
Tregillis is also great at writing emotionally intense scenes, particularly in The Liberation. The combat is ridiculous and Tregillis’ descriptions of humans fighting mechanical haymakers on legs that will mulch you for one misstep is awesome. The books also do not give plot armor to anyone or anything, something that is much more common in historical fictions (unsurprisingly in real wars A LOT of people die). There are some truly grisly and upsetting deaths, though I would never describe them as gratuitous or there for shock value. Tregillis continuously wants you to remember that wars are terrible, people die, and that this is not an adventure (a lesson Berenice has to learn in the earlier books). The Liberation sees the stakes, combat, and horrors of war reach new heights making it easily the most intense book of the three.
In summary, I honestly did not expect a lot from The Alchemy Wars when I picked it up. I was intrigued by the Dutch vs. French premise, and was hoping for some cool combat at most. What I found was one of the most thoughtful and exciting series I have read over the last few years, with some of the best characters I have ever read. The series is definitely worth your time and I will be purchasing the rest of Tregillis’ catalog, past and future, when I get a chance. For the third and final time, The Quill to Live recommends The Alchemy Wars, do yourself a favor and pick all of it up.
The Liberation – 9.0/10
The Alchemy Wars – 8.5/10