Artificial intelligence, but with alchemical robots—Clakkers—instead of computerized ones. Instead of enslaving Africans to build the New World, the Dutch use alchemy to create mechanical slaves and take over Europe, driving the French into exile in their North American territories. French catholics who believe Clakkers have souls help rogue Clakkers escape on the ondergrondse grachten, the “underground canals.” New France barely survives by wielding advanced chemical weapons and defenses.
With plenty of references to the actual colonial history of North America, this is fundamentally an adventure story about a Clakker fugitive from injustice, a French spymaster’s quest to restore her country, and a French agent forced to betray his conscience and country. I liked it a lot, and I’ll start reading the next book in the series right away.
(Ian Tregillis’s other series, The Milkweed Triptych, is also a creative alternative-history series, about Nazis super-soldiers during World War II.)