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Made Things

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Member Reviews

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.
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Tchaikovsky continues to be one of my favorite authors. It seems like whatever he decides to write about, it's amazing. I would really love to see a full length novel set in this world in the future.
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Happy book birthday, MADE THINGS!

I'll be the first to admit I have only skimmed the surface of Tchaikovsky's body of work, having read and purchased the sequel to CHILDREN OF TIME and having snagged a beautiful hard copy of IRONCLADS and having made a serious attempt at trying his Echoes of the Fall series (and being foiled, as I often am, as many others are, by the limitations of both the library network and pocketbook). There are, suffice it to say, many other books by Tchaikovsky I have yet to sample, fall in love with, and wallow heartily away in, and my to-read shelf is looking ... daunting, let's just say. So imagine my delight when along comes a new novella! That I can grab a copy of! In remote rural America! (You'll have to imagine quite a lot of delight, because I'm still reveling in it. This is hyperbolic delightedness I'm unleashing here.)

I'll also be the first to admit that I'm normally not much one for automatons, puppets, and carpentry. Oh, I tried. My grandfather was a carpenter, and I adored him. I even bought myself some power tools once upon a time and refinished some furniture, but I have had some odd housemates and homeowners and all the things I have made I have lost. Also I have whatever an unhealthily powerful gag reflex is to looking at a clogged sink, only to automatons. They rank up there with clowns and pretty much any form of monkey and Australian spider on my shudder index, and let me tell you, I've seen plenty of face-sized spiders INSIDE MY OWN HOME courtesy of some [redacted story about family trauma set in Australia]. But just as Tchaikovsky took a creature around which I LITERALLY HAVE NO CHILL and turned it into something delightful and captivating in CHILDREN OF TIME's [redacted spoiler], he also takes my deep-seated loathing of automatons and turns it into something whimsical and compelling here in MADE THINGS.

And look, Tchaikovsky has voice. He's got style. He's got a good sense of pacing. And a damn good editor in Lee Harris. I'm not going to get into plot here because I've already given you more than I got going into this novella (I never read novella synopses anyway; they're too telling and novellas are all about immersion for me) by way of yelling "automatons!" repeatedly into the abyss. Suffice it to say, Tchaikovsky handles everything beautifully, builds a great story, and made me love a thing I really didn't want to love at all when I started out yesterday morning. Again. Thanks for that.

Maybe next time you'll write about clowns? Or taxes? Or artichokes, which I've never properly figured out how to cook and now loathe with every fiber of my being? All of these would be great candidates for Tchaikovsky's next novum, I think. That man can make me love traffic jams, if he only writes them in his trademark style.
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Hello. Thank you for this review copy. I decided not to review it on our website because I didn't like it and our readers like the author very much. I found it somewhat confusing and contrived. I didn't care about the characters and I thought there were to many of them for the shorter format (which like and I loved The Monster of Elendhaven). The Dickensian prose held me for a while, but that was about it. My ed-in-chief is going to assign it to someone else. Thanks.
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Made Things by Adrian Tchaikovsky, A fun little book. The little golems have expanded into the City and having found someone to work with, help her out from time to time. But things start to go haywire...
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I have a fear of dolls. Or maybe not a fear, so much as I find them intensely off putting. Their miniature faces are creepy, and any horror story that involves dolls coming to life and murdering people deeply upsets me. So, when the lovely people at Tor.com sent me Made Things, a novella by Adrian Tchaikovsky about a dollmaker who brings her creations to life, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, Tchaikovsky is one of the most imaginative writers of the last decade and I generally like almost everything he writes. On the other hand, creepy murder dolls that might infest my nightmares. It is safe to say that I was negatively disposed to the concept from the start, thus the fact that I loved this novella should say something about Tchaikovsky’s skill as a writer.

The plot of the book is short and sweet: Coppelia is a street thief, a trickster, a low-level con artist living in a famous magical city. She is an urchin barely scraping by in a metropolis run by elite archmages. Normally this would spell doom for a person in her situation, but Coppelia has a little magic up her sleeves. She is a skilled puppet maker and has survived by stealing money from unsuspecting tourists through a puppet show. However, recently her creations have been coming to life. She discovers she has the power to infuse tiny homunculi with life, and she is not the only one. By teaming up with these made things they have opened doors for her into new opportunities. They don’t entirely trust her, and she doesn’t entirely understand them, but their partnership seems to work well. However, when they make a magical discovery that threatens to destroy the city they all call home, they must make some hard choices.

I know that plot description was fairly vague, but this is a novella and I didn’t want to spoil too much. The story is a lot of fun and involves a lot of politicking, character growth, a heist, and some really cool magic. The world-building has an impressive amount of detail for a novella. The city feels fleshed out and lived in, the magic feels complicated but adheres to clearly stated rules, and the threats/antagonists are easy to identify and rally against. A lot of this is helped by the cast being so likable. There are essentially three leads and a large support cast. For the leads, we have the aforementioned Coppelia and two homunculi: Tef and Arc. All three are wonderful and each have unique wants and agendas that are explored through the story but revolve around a core theme – survival in a harsh world. For Coppelia, that means scraping together a living in a world that cares nothing for her. For Tef and Arc, it means scraping together an existence in hiding when the world would pull them apart to see how they work.

The homunculi, in general, are fascinating. Tchaikovsky has done an impressively imaginative job of exploring all sorts of made people. There are one made of wax, paper, steel, wood, and any other substance you can think of. Some are small, some are large, some can fly, others are immobile. And for each, Tchaikovsky provides a window into how their existence, and personalities, are defined by what they were made from. A large steel doll might be courageous and brash, but have a phobia of water and rusting. A homunculus made of paper sees threats to her existence everywhere, as a simple tear could mean the end of her. Together they make an eclectic and fascinating people that are fun to explore.

The book is a rollercoaster ride with a fast pace and an explosive end. I read it in a single sitting and never thought once about putting it down. The ending does feel slightly abrupt, but that is often par for the course with novellas and is more a problem with the medium than anything else. Tchaikovsky’s Made Things is a fun, well built, adventure that helped me look at magical dolls in a new way. It has an interesting world, likable characters, and attention to detail when it comes to bringing these homunculi to life. Hopefully, this novella will be the starting point of a new novel as I want to dig a little deeper into everything. I would love to come back and overturn more rocks, dredge more canals, and explore more magical vaults to discover what else Tchaikovsky has hidden in Made Things. You probably can’t go wrong with this short story, and I recommend you check it out.

Rating: Made Things – 8.0/10
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