It’s a good rule of thumb, although not an iron clad law, that the second part of a trilogy is never as good as the first part (Godfather Part Two, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Endless Hills are exceptions to the rule, of course). It’s hard to match the excitement of discovery you get from the first installment’s introduction of the characters and the world their moving around in. In addition, the second part is usually a bridge between the introduction and the climax. It’s a natural area for a bit of a letdown. The real issue is, how does the final installment stack up?
When I reviewed the first two parts of Ian Tregillis’s The Alchemy Wars last year, I noted that they followed the pattern. The Mechanical introduced us to a really cool world, a handful of interesting characters, and some big overarching questions about such minor things as free will and the nature of sentience. The Rising didn’t quite live up to that promise, focusing on some rousing action and pushing some of the more philosophical stuff to the side. Also, there was a whole section in the middle of the book that didn’t really seem to matter that much.
Well, remember what I said about middles and all that? Tregillis finishes up the trilogy with The Liberation, a rousing conclusion that, if anything, comes along just a little too quickly.
At the beginning of The Liberation, the Dutch Empire that has essentially conquered the world with its magically powered “clakkers” (clockwork people) has, to be kind, been put on its back foot. It’s not giving things away to say that The Liberation is about an oppressed people in revolt. What’s interesting is that it doesn’t present a simple good-guys-throw-off-their-yokes narrative. There are factions amongst the clakkers, deep philosophical divisions of the type that you’d find in most human uprisings. After spending most of The Rising in North America, the primary focus of The Liberation is the European mainland, particularly The Hague.
Having said that, there’s a key part of the story that plays out in North America (around the non-clakker enclave of New France). The stories in the New World and Old World play out in parallel, until, about two-thirds of the way in, we learn that one preceded the other. It’s a neat trick on Tregillis’s part, some temporal sleight of hand that allows the two stories to develop well on their own before the reader needs to know how they’re related.
It’s a bit of a shame, then, that when the end comes it comes very quickly. Not out of nowhere – the pieces are all moved into place quite well – but it doesn’t quite seem up to the task. I’m hesitant to complain because Tregillis has given us an ending, one that – just like the real world – wraps up most loose ends, but allows some questions to linger that will have to be answered in the future. It’s a fitting cap to an inventive and immersive read.
As far as I know, Tregillis doesn’t have any future plans for this universe. I hope I’m wrong, because I’d be really interested to see what’s happening in a generation or two.