Warning: Contains Spoilers!
The two mannequins began to play. The sound, however, was horrible to hear, for although the lutanist was performing the desired melody, the recorder player had launched into O Mistress Mine for the fifth time.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: There’s a lot of fascinating juxtaposition going on in the first half of this chapter. We have the comedic ruckus of the malfunctioning mechanical musicians contrasted with the extra-serious discussion of political alliances and impending war going on at Lord Richard’s table; but we also have the shabby, bygone sorriness of Malmes-Wutton placed against the sumptuous wealth and grandeur of the emissaries from Elizabeth I’s court.
There’s also an emphasis on the clear divide between the aristocracy, and craftspeople such as Edwin Dritchly. One, born into grand titles, commands battles to be fought and maneuvers courtiers to their liking. The other, despite being highly skilled, has no say at all in where or how they work. Richard Wutton, nobly born but at the mercy of those in power, is an interesting middle-ground between these, and we can’t help but feel for him as he gets thoroughly trounced once again by the Queen’s will.
Then, that wealth and grandeur we saw in the form of the mechanical steeds the visitors brought with them shows it’s true, darker nature. Having got to know Master Dritchly over the last chapter (and, more importantly perhaps, having understood that Adam, Henry, and Jack, our young protagonists, look to him as a paternal figure and share something like familial bonds with him) we instantly feel the emotional horror of his sudden and violent demise.
Master Dritchly’s death, again in contrast to the comedy of the wayward musicians just a few pages before, also illustrates the most looming and ominous problem of a world with such sophisticated technology. What happens when the mechanicals, through innocent ichor imbalance or more sinister intervention, decide to disobey?
Matt’s Thoughts: There were many intriguing aspects to this chapter, but the one that grabbed me the most was the food. If there are no animals except mechanical ones, where did the spiced chicken come from in the pastries? Or the mutton?
It’s tantalising details like this that make the whole concept of this book so fascinating. Also, loving all the mechanicals. I can’t remember if steampunk was as much a thing back in the early 2000s as it is now, but this a fantastic use of it. (Or it it the other way around, that steampunk was huge in the early 2000s and less prominent now? I’m not up on my subcultures!)
But a recreation of the English-French-Spanish wars with clockwork animals and weapons is a fantastic concept before we’ve even got there. (Even assuming that’s the direction this plot takes!) It does sound very much as if something strange is taking over the mechanicals to sabotage the English plan, but who? How?