Power and control, society and structure, alchemy and engineering, machine and gargoyle. This is a world populated by the strange and steampunky, with emancipated (but maybe not really) humanoid robots, and gargoyles slowly turning to stone against their will. It's also a world in flux, where feudalism may be in the midst of being overthrown by industry, and that may be, in turn, challenged by the workers.
There are provocative ideas in this one, but I wanted just a bit more exploration. Sedia touches lightly on a lot of interesting topics, and explores some, but in most cases I was left eager for just a little bit more depth in any of them. The world she creates is interesting, steampunky, but also medieval. And the struggles are fascinating, but need just a little more depth.
The main character is an emancipated automaton named Mattie, who has been freed by her creator and now works as an alchemist. (But is she really free? Her creator still holds the key to wind up her heart, and she is set to malfunction if she does not go and see him.) The complex dynamics of this relationship are sketched out, but again, not to beat the same drum too many times, I just wanted them explored a little bit more.
She is approached by the gargoyles to try to come up with an alchemical answer to their problem - they are turning to stone. They used to control stone, may indeed have created the city, but now it calls to them, and they do not wish to heed its call.
At the same time, the engineers are trying to make a more efficient and rational society, moving people off the land into the mines because it's more efficient and gives them what they need, instead of paying any attention to individual desire. The people, quite understandably, resist. Acts of violence erupt. There is pushback.
Against this, Mattie tries to establish who she is in a world where no one wants to truly see her as human.
I admire this book for all it is trying to pack in, and the complexity of the issues it is trying to address. Maybe further books, if there are any, will explore the issues I felt itching under the surface, waiting to be scratched more thoroughly. But this is worth a read, even if I was ultimately a little dissatisfied. It's because it got quite a bit right that I wanted more.