READ THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS: Sedition (Children of Erikkson, #1) by E.M. Wright
She was created for more than slavery; she was built for rebellion.
In an alternate Victorian England, clockwork cyborgs provide the primary source of labor for the upper class. Known as biomatons, they are property by law and have been manipulated and mind-controlled into subservience.
Taryn Roft, a 17-year-old girl attending classes at Grafton's School of Mechanicks in London, has a secret. What's even worse—she cannot remember anything before her twelfth birthday.
When a mysterious privateer discovers her secret, he offers her an ultimatum: accompany him to his airship, or her secret will be revealed to everyone. For Taryn, it's not much of a choice. Facing prejudice and cruelty may be nothing new to the only girl at an all-boys' school, but the further from home she gets, the darker her situation becomes.
Follow Taryn through this first installment of the Children of Erikkson, SEDITION by E. M. Wright—out next Tuesday, May eighteenth. Pre-order your copy NOW!
Early praise for SEDITION:
In E. M. Wright’s steampunk, alternative past novel, humans become biomaton slaves when their body parts are replaced with mechanical ones, and their brains are changed to suit their new stations by dampening or removing all human emotions. In this devastating dystopia, biomaton Taryn hides who and what she is to keep herself from becoming enslaved and losing all sense of self. Fast-paced, clever, and allegorical, this novel considers what makes people human after all.
Set in Victorian England, the story begins with a house fire that destroys six-year-old Taryn’s arm, necessitating its replacement with a mechanical arm that appears as if flesh and blood. The story fast forwards to Taryn’s teenage years, where she’s in the household of a local lord and educated alongside his son, neither of whom know Taryn as anything other than human. This fact would destroy her education as a mechanic, her home, and her future. An unexpected encounter threatens to upend her entire life and reveal her identity as a biomaton—a part of a larger, darker plot that’s tied to the years prior to her twelfth birthday, years that she can’t remember.
The action explodes with careening air ships, castles filled with malice and brainwashing, and automatons crafted as weapons. Taryn’s world is rich with parallels to historical injustices, but also ingenious steampunk details that highlight a cross between the rigor of clockwork mechanics and the power of fantasy. But the conclusion resolves few of the questions that were raised by the rising action, instead suggesting a second volume to come. Still, Sedition is powerful because of its social commentary, compelling setting, and unexpected heroine.
AT FIRST, SHE WAS AWARE ONLY OF THE HEAT: PLEASANT, wonderfully warm, like being cradled in the arms of her mother. But then it grew hotter, blistering her skin, searing the backs of her legs, her neck. She shrieked, but the sound was smothered by the smoke, choked by the absence of oxygen in the air. She arched her back, trying to get away from the heat, but something pressed upon her chest, keeping her tiny, heaving body pinned.
Images returned to her, flashes of memory, ugly glimpses of the events that had led up to this moment. Mother and Father screaming at one another. The oil lamp getting knocked to the floor. Fire, bright orange, crackling, devouring everything in sight. Shrieks. Darkness. And now, this. This searing pain, the pressure on her chest, the smoke filling her eyes and lungs and throat. She lifted her head enough to glimpse the charred beam that lay across her chest, weighing her down. She moved her hands, trying to make it budge, only to realize her left hand would not move at all. She could not even feel her fingers.
She glanced to her left and froze, staring. Her stomach lurched into her throat. Where her left arm should have been, 1 there was just a bloody stump. She couldn’t remember losing the limb, couldn’t feel any pain, but her stomach roiled at the sight of the blood. The little girl turned her head away from the horrible sight and wretched.
A whimper rose in her throat, despite the sting of the smoke. Where were Mother and Father? Why didn’t they come for her?
She understood a moment later, as more flashes of ugly memory returned. Mother’s skirt catching fire. Father batting at the flames, his waistcoat catching… The knowledge weighed on her young heart: Mother and Father had died in the blaze. They were not coming. She was trapped. Alone. And no one would ever come for her.
The little girl coughed weakly, her tiny body expending what little energy it had left to expel the smoke from her lungs. The air was so dense with soot that her next breath was just as noxious as the last.
“Hello?” A voice broke through the sounds of crumbling wood and crackling flames: low, unfamiliar, and wary.
Her eyes widened. There was someone out there! Mother? Father? No, the voice was more sophisticated than any she knew. She opened her mouth to cry out, to exclaim, “Yes! I am here! Help me!” But only a weak croak emerged from a throat too parched to call for help. She was beginning to see black spots dancing at the edges of her vision, their darting movements distracting her from the urgency of answering whomever had called out.
Her eyes had nearly drifted shut when the man appeared, kneeling beside her. He had auburn, curly hair and copper stubble across his chin. His kind, forest green eyes crinkled at the corners. “Hello, little one,” he said gently. Strong hands lifted the charred beam from where it lay across her chest, relieving the pressure. A rush of air surged from her lips, emerging as a half-cry, half-sob.
“Shh,” he soothed her, placing one gentle hand against her forehead. “Hush, my child. Lie still. Everything shall be all right.”
She stared at him, small eyes wide and wondering. Beneath the soot on her cheeks, her face was pale with the pain.
Gently, he lifted her into his arms, pausing whenever she whimpered to make sure he was not hurting her. Finally, he rose, cradling the tiny, damaged girl in his arms like a baby, and carried her from the burned wreckage of her home.
“IF YOU WILL FOLLOW ME, THERE IS MUCH MORE TO SEE.”
The students of Grafton’s School of Mechanicks followed their guide deeper into the newly opened London Museum of Bioclockwork. The building was huge, regal in a bare industrial sort of way. Their footsteps clattered across a stone floor inlaid with metal gilding: copper cogs elevated from functional to beautiful.
The students crowded together in their crisp school uniforms, daunted by the imposing glory of the soaring building. The group consisted of boys and young men, all brighteyed, eagerly soaking up the information presented before them, and looking forward to the bright future they would have as clockmakers or mechanicks. Or, if they were very fortunate, as biomechanicks. But near the back of the group, the crinkle of crinoline and the sweep of a bustled skirt could be heard. A fierce-looking girl with a shock of bright red hair pulled into a tangled braid stood, her arms crossed, one hand covered with a black satin glove. Her expression was stony, somewhere between blank and cross. Beside her, a boy with unkempt dirty blond hair and a face that appeared to smile too much bounced from foot to foot, trying to see over the heads of the other students.
“Bioclockwork was first introduced to the field of mechanicks in the early 1820s, when a man named Vincentio Dolltevi created a clockwork hand for himself after losing his own in a factory accident. Little did Mr. Dolltevi know that his innovation would lead to the creation of a race who would become the labourers of the British Empire—”
“Slaves,” the red-haired girl muttered to her friend. He glared and elbowed her teasingly.
“Shh, Taryn!” he whispered.
“If you will follow me this way...” The guide directed them into a hallway filled with glass cases. Huge glass windows on both sides of the hall let in plenty of light, and immense chande‐ liers dripping with candles illuminated any shadowy places that remained. “Look around, gentlemen, and you will see just a sampling of some of the most detailed biomechanicks available today,” the guide intoned, his voice echoing in the space.
The tight-knit group scattered across the polished floor to various glass cases, murmuring and marveling at the objects they found inside. The red-haired girl held back, her face seemingly set in stone. Had anyone been watching closely, he might have noticed she was struggling not to display any emotion in her countenance. Her friend eagerly moved toward the nearest glass case, one free-standing on the floor with a pedestal inside. The girl followed him after only a few moments of hesitation, as though they were bound together by an invisible rope and it had pulled taut, dragging her along.
Within the glass case, on the pedestal, stood an intricate clockwork leg built from the knee down. The metal plating had been removed on one side, revealing the intricate mechanickal workings within. The girl stared not at the clockwork on display, but rather at the metal exterior plating of the prosthetic. It was scratched and scuffed, dented and worn. This was not something built for display. This was a true prosthetic. It had been worn by someone at some point before finding its way into this case. The girl paled, ever so slightly, and lifted her gloved left hand to her chest as if to cradle it.
The boys scattered throughout the museum soon congregated in front of a large glass case at the far end of the hall. They murmured amongst themselves, the sound hushed and awed. The red-haired girl and her friend were drawn along with the crowd, unable to resist their own curiosity.
They shoved their way to the front, ignoring the indignant taunts of their classmates. When they reached the front of the crowd, both students froze in their tracks. The red-haired girl’s hand went to her mouth, the colour draining from her face. She looked as though she might swoon.
Behind the glass lay a boy, strapped to a wooden board like a dead beetle, his arms splayed, his head tilted back, jaw hanging slightly ajar. The boy’s chest had been cut open, displaying a mess of gears and flesh. It was abundantly clear that the boy was dead, but for the first moment or two of observation, he appeared to still be breathing.
The red-haired girl turned, shoved through the crowd, and fled from the hall. Her hand was still pressed to her mouth.
Taryn leaned over the washbasin in the ladies’ powder room, waiting for her stomach to settle. She knew she was missing the tour, but at this point she did not care. She couldn’t get that biomaton boy in the glass case out of her head. Every time she thought of him, she felt more ill. Had he been vivisected there for the museum, or had he died without ever knowing what his fate would be? She hoped it was the latter.
Cognitively, Taryn understood the plight of the biomaton. They were slaves, humans who needed clockwork parts in order to survive. Their modified bodies somehow made them less than human, and that was the part she did not understand. Why weren’t they human? What did losing a limb and having it replaced have to do with one’s humanity?
With trembling fingers, Taryn ran her right hand over its gloved fellow. The limb felt real enough, if colder and harder than one made of flesh and blood. But she knew it was not real. It was intricate clockwork, a biomaton’s limb. Perhaps that was why she did not understand how they could treat the biomatons the way they did. Perhaps she was just as different as any of the slaves. But she couldn’t quite accept that explanation. Since she was pulled off the streets by Royal (and, more accurately, by Lord Stokker, his father), no one had suspected her of being anything but human. Every so often, someone would ask her what she was hiding beneath that black satin glove, but she always answered them with a story about a scar. It was mostly true, too. She had lost her arm in a house fire when she was six years old. And she would have lost her life as well, had not some biomechanick happened by and saved her life with clockwork. At times she wasn’t sure whether she was more grateful or resentful of him for that. Either way, it did not matter all that much. She did not remember him, and he had abandoned her to the streets, alone and frightened. She remembered the fire, and she remembered living on the streets, but between the two, a great expanse of memory was blank. She did not know what she had done or who she had been in those six years.
Taryn forced herself to breathe deeply, realizing why she had been so disturbed by the sight of the boy in the first place. It could just as easily have been her behind that glass, torn open to be gawked at by schoolboys and rich men. She took another deep breath. She was not a slave. No one would discover what she was. She was careful; she was safe at Grafton’s—safe with Lord Stokker and his son, Royal. There was no reason to panic like this.
Taryn drew one more deep breath and straightened up, forcing herself to banish the trepidation from her mind. She exited the powder room, finding herself back in the vast foyer of the museum. She had no desire to go back into that great maze, even to attempt to find her classmates. Who knew what other horrors awaited her in the curated depths of that place? So instead, she left the building and settled on the damp steps of the museum, plucking at the heavy, navy blue wool skirt of her Grafton’s school uniform.
A few minutes passed, and then Taryn heard the door behind her swing open. Someone padded down the steps and sat to her right. “There you are, Tiger! I was afraid you were not coming back.”
Taryn glanced at Royal, forcing a smile. Royal was one of her few friends in the world; the only reason she was here at all was because of Royal’s kindness and his father’s generosity. Still, even he did not know what she was, and she could not bear to imagine what would happen if he learned her secret. “I am sorry I disappeared,” she answered him quietly. “I was disturbed by the displays.”
“But you missed the most incredible displays of bioclockwork!” he exclaimed. His expressive brown eyes lit up with excitement.
She shook her head. Wisps of copper hair blew across her cheeks in the misty breeze. “I have seen slaves before. Are you finished?”
He glanced back at the doors of the museum.
Have you drunk your fill of blood? Taryn wanted to ask, but the words were too vicious for him, her one true friend, who did not know better than what he had been taught. Biomatons were just property, designed to be bought and sold.
“Aye,” he finally sighed. “I have seen enough for this trip. Shall we go and find ourselves a spot of afternoon tea?” He stood and offered her his hand, which she took with a crooked, forced smile.
“Please,” she replied, though she was not actually hungry. But it was Saturday, and they had the afternoon to themselves. Afternoon tea would be as good as anything to get her mind off of what she had seen.
Taryn slipped her right hand into the crook of his arm, walking beside her friend. They traveled the worn, familiar streets of London side-by-side, lost in the sort of familiar quiet formed by long-standing friendships. They strolled along the cobblestone streets, dodging brougham cabs and pedestrians headed home with their shopping.
As Royal was the son of a lord, he always had spare pocket money, and he shared it generously. Taryn was thankful; the lean year of living on the streets, begging or stealing what she could and enduring without the rest, was still all too vivid in her mind.
Taryn glanced up as they passed one of the many clockwork foundries in the city, its fat brick smokestacks belching black smoke into the sky. A low-frequency rumble rattled her teeth as a merchant’s airship passed overhead. It is 1864, she mused silently. With all our technological advances, one would think we could be civil to each other by now.
They reached a tea parlour that offered an excellent afternoon tea for fairly cheap, and were seated in a bright room by a young man wearing a tuxedo. Taryn allowed Royal to seat her in a rigid whitewashed chair, examining the heavy curtains that cascaded over the tall windows and the pale, flowered wallpaper. Royal ordered a full afternoon high tea, and the waiter left them alone.
“Have you given any thought to the spring holiday yet?” Royal asked.
“What about it?” she asked, running her finger around the scalloped rim of the empty china teacup.
“Well, you are spending it with us, correct? My father has business in Switzerland, but we may explore the city…” He trailed off, his face clouding over. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
Her face twisted. “Roy, I never feel like I belong when I am with your father. All those high society fetes and long dinners— I do not belong in that kind of life.”
“Nonsense! Taryn, you did well at finishing school. You are always the highlight of our Christmas parties.”
She shook her head. “Just because I did well does not mean I enjoy it. I am always afraid of making a fool of myself and revealing that even with all my education, I am still just a street urchin. Then everyone will know your father’s cha