Made Things by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Adrian Tchaikovsky is an unusually versatile author. I never know what to expect from him — insect and shapeshifter fantasy, Iron Man-inspired science fiction, and Regency/Napoleonic historical fantasy are just a few examples — but I know it’s going to be imaginative and intelligently written. The last work I read by him, Walking to Aldebaran, was science fictional horror with an unusual literary streak. In a nearly 180 degree turn, Tchaikovsky now offers up the novella Made Things (2019), a magical gaslamp fantasy involving living puppets and a heist.
Coppelia is a seventeen-year-old puppeteer, with enough magic to make her a gifted artist at carving intricate, lifelike puppets. She’s also an orphan, barely scraping by in the city of Loretz, the renowned city of magic and mages. The local police, the Broadcaps, have been out to get her since she climbed out of a window of the orphanage six years ago and escaped to street life and petty thievery.
But Coppelia has made some new friends lately: some 6-inch-tall puppets made by an archmage long ago, brought to life by magic, have moved to her city and decided to throw their lot in with hers. Now when Coppelia puts on a puppet show, these living mannikins, or homunculi, sneak around the audience and pick their pockets. The mannikins and Coppelia share the spoils, and she keeps their existence a secret and helps them carve new puppets, which they can bring to life by infusing them with magic from stolen charms and enchanted trinkets.
It’s a difficult life, but gradually getting better for both Coppelia and the mannikins. Then the local crime lord takes an interest in Coppelia and decides that she would be a useful member of a crew sent to break into the mages’ palace and investigate a report of a life-size mannikin … and to steal whatever they can. The illicit adventure could make or break Coppelia.
Made Things is a well-told, whimsical fantasy adventure that, like the professional thieves, has a few nice tricks up its sleeves. There are a few unexpected twists in the plot, and an attention to detail that increases the appeal of the story. For example, the details about the homunculi are fascinating: they’re made out of wood, metal, wax, fabric and even paper or bones. Each puppet has a distinct personality, and you’ll get attached to Arc and Tef, the two puppets who have grown closest to Coppelia. The homunculi also have an interesting differing take on gender.
Tchaikovsky also weaves in the theme of the use and abuse of power, seen in both the greedy mage-lords who ruthlessly control the city and the crime lords who equally mercilessly rule the underclass. Even the puppets’ society has privileged rulers who let other puppets take all the risks.
After the horror-steeped intensity of Walking to Aldebaran, Made Things feels like a much lighter work, despite a fair amount of violence and its examination of oppression. It’s a quick, enjoyable read with some heft to it. Come for the whimsy of the living puppets; stay for the well-drawn characters and insightful writing.
This looks like fun. It reminds me a bit of Garth Nix’s Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz, which I liked.
Oh, I really want to read this! I love that he named his protagonist Coppelia after the ballet.
Nice catch! I totally missed that.
Yes I thought the Coppelia angle was great too. I liked that you bought out the oppression issue in your review too. It sounds Wow!
Thanks Bernarra! It’s an enjoyable read. I think you’d like it.