Review: The Mechanical Chrysanthemums by Felicitas Ivey
Publish Date: January 14, 2015
Reviewed by: Heller
How I got this book: E-Arc from Publisher
Hachisuka Narihiro is a pilot in the Shogun’s elite unit of musha-ki, robotic armor automated by steam and magic for the defense of Nippon in a slowly modernizing 19th Century, when he’s requested to help with political negotiations. Compromises are difficult, with American Admiral Perry determined to open Japan to the West but only on his terms. Like most Western leaders, the admiral is unaware of the advances the Japanese have made with steam and thinks Nippon is an isolated and backward nation. Narihiro’s uncle, the twelfth Tokugawa Shogun, believes Narihiro is the best man for the duty. Despite his extensive training, plans might not go as well as expected. With the American delegation comes closeted former Pennsylvania Dutch farmer, Maarten Zook, a shy translator who catches Narihiro’s interest. As negotiations stall, the Japanese are left with few options to convince America that Nippon is its equal. Japan is ready to open its borders, but a show of force may be needed, and that force may destroy the budding relationship between Narihiro and Maarten.
I’m a big fan of “What if?” stories. I’ve read a lot of graphic novels that put that twist on well known characters and events so I was intrigued with the premise of this one. In the end though the story seemed a little at odds with itself with three main story lines weaving in and out, lightly touching on all of them but not really focusing strongly on any one. We had the alternate history, the romance and the steampunk. As an alternate history it was an interesting read and I’d say the strongest of all three. I got a feel for actual events when reading these alternate ones and you can really see the domino effect that happened. As a romance it kind of worked for me for portions and then it really skimmed important moments and feel apart a bit. As a steampunk we only got a glimpse of what it is to be a pilot of a large mecha added to that was a paranormal angle that felt more an afterthought. It was a pretty patchy read.
Don’t get me wrong. I did enjoy parts of it quite a bit but because it felt so choppy I just couldn’t sink into the story as much as I would have liked. While it was interesting to see the alternate events I found the story focused on that to the detriment of the relationship between the men. When it did focus on Narihiro and Maarten it was really enjoyable. I was on board with the men and their slightly D/s relationship but important milestones for them were skipped over then near the end there was odd comment from Maarten on how he defined their relationship. Maybe it was just the historical views at the time but threw me out of the story again. Kiyoshi was also a character that I enjoyed reading about who could easily have his own story but there were a few ambiguous comments which seemed to come out of nowhere that left me wondering what was going on in his head with regards to Maarten.
This was a intriguing alternate history with a good, if lightly touched on, romance and a smattering of steampunk. A decent read but again a choppy one.
I’m giving The Mechanical Chrysanthemums a C-