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!


Amazon

Kobo

Barnes & Noble

The Parliament House


Don’t forget to add SEDITION to your Goodreads shelf!


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.


Reviewed by Camille-Yvette Welsch


 

PROLOGUE


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.


 

CHAPTER ONE


“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 charity project was worthless, after all.”


The great Lord Stokker was famous for his charity projects. He pulled bright children out of orphanages and off the streets, then placed them in high profile schools to “civilise” them. Many of these children grew up to become famous inventors, mechanicks, or doctors. When Royal brought Taryn home, gave her a bath, a clean frock, and a meal, and then introduced her to his father, Lord Stokker had recognized her potential immedi‐ ately. She was just twelve years old at the time. Lord Stokker sent Taryn to finishing school, then signed her up for the mechanicks program at Grafton’s School of Mechanicks when she showed aptitude for clockwork. It was not entirely unheard of for a girl to be educated as a mechanick, and it was even becoming fashionable for upper class families to hire women to work on their biomatons and other mechanickal devices in their homes. Still, Taryn was the first girl to attend Grafton’s School of Mechanicks, and she received both praise and scorn for it.


“You are not my father’s project,” Royal responded sharply. “You are a part of the family. If you do not want to attend any grand parties or suppers, then we do not have to attend. We can explore Switzerland together, and do nothing we do not want to do.” He smiled his crooked, disarming smile.


Taryn sighed. “Very well, Royal. You do not give me much of a choice. We shall spend our holiday in Switzerland.” She gave him a gentle smile, knowing, despite her reluctance, that she would enjoy the trip. Just as long as Royal’s rocky relationship with his father did not get in the way.


“Excellent,” Royal grinned. The waiter approached, bearing a tower covered in pastries and dainty tea sandwiches, as well as a shining kettle filled with boiling water for their tea. He set the tower on their table, then poured the boiling water into the teapot, delicately steeping the Earl Grey leaves. The scent billowed up in steaming clouds, rich and heady. Taryn breathed deeply, the floral smell evoking warm memories of Royal’s mother before she died. The woman had practically adopted Taryn as her own, even asking that she call her Mother. Her death had devastated the entire family, including Taryn. It had been two and a half years since then, but the scent of Earl Grey always brought back memories of her.


Taryn watched Royal add sugar and milk to both teacups after the waiter left. She lifted a cucumber sandwich from the tower, using only her right hand, as she could not remove the glove hiding her prosthetic and it would be poor manners to use that hand. Besides, she did not want to dirty the glove.


“My father will be glad to hear you will be joining us,” Royal said, passing Taryn her teacup. “He loves you. He speaks of you all the time.” Royal rolled his eyes. “The best thing I have ever done in his eyes is bring you home.”


“That is not true,” Taryn replied quietly. “He loves you, in his own way.”


Royal scoffed. “Not so much as he loves you. I have received exactly one letter from him since we returned to school, and it was the one telling me we would be spending the holiday in Switzerland, and would I please invite you to come along.” His E. M. WRIGHT 12 lip twisted in an expression of disgust, and he quickly hid the expression behind his teacup.


“Have you written him? Have you told him anything about your classes, or your end-of-year project? Anything at all?” Taryn questioned gently.


“I gave up years ago,” he muttered. “I do not think he ever reads them.”


“You must put in an effort if you wish to have a relationship with him,” Taryn said quietly, casting her eyes down to her teacup. She felt somewhat hypocritical saying so, as much of the way a family worked was an unfathomable mystery to her, but even so, she knew she was right. Royal’s father was rough around the edges, but with effort on both sides she thought they could still be on good terms.


Royal reached for a scone and smeared it with clotted cream and marmalade. Taryn knew him well enough to recognize he was not willing to discuss the subject any further. The scone was pale and fluffy, and looked soft in his large hands and slender, dexterous fingers. He had the hands of a mechanick, the kind of hands she’d been inexplicably drawn to for as long as she could remember. It went all the way back to the blank spot in her memory, before she lived on the streets, before her twelfth year.


“I met a biomechanick today,” Royal said casually before taking a huge bite of the scone.


“Did you?” Taryn had to struggle to keep her expression flat. A powerful ire bubbled in her stomach at the mere mention of a man who turned other human beings into slaves. She didn’t dare let that anger boil to the surface.


“Mhmm.” Royal nodded. “He was in the museum. I did not speak to him for long, as the guide moved our group along too quickly, but Alfred told me he is rather famous.”


“Famous? For building biomatons?”


“For building strange, dangerous biomatons,” Royal replied eagerly. His brown eyes lit up with excitement.


“What do you mean?”


“The biomatons this man builds do not have the dampers required by the Biomaton Safety Act. They are built with their humanity still intact!”


Taryn frowned. “Does that not seem absurd to you? To be required to build biomatons in such a way that they are not even considered human any longer?”


Royal’s expression dimmed. “Tar, we have had this conversation before. Biomatons are machines built for work.”


“Machines that were once human!” Taryn exclaimed. “Why does that not bother you?”


“Because…” Royal shook his head. “They are given a new chance at life. They are given a place to live and food to eat and clothes to wear. It seems rather a good deal to me.”


“So, if I had lost my arm in the fire and had been turned into a biomaton, you would not think I was human, either?”


Royal frowned. “That is different. You would not be Taryn any longer.”


“Who would I be?”


“Just…another biomaton.”


“And that is a good thing?”


“It would be to you and to whomever you worked for.”


“Belonged to,” Taryn corrected. “Whomever I belonged to.”


“But that did not happen. You are Taryn. And you are still my best friend, even with your radical views.” Royal smiled crookedly at her. “Only, do not let my father hear you going on like that. I do not think he would take it well.”


Taryn nodded, subdued for the moment. She tried not to bring up the biomaton issue with Royal, though occasionally it did cause a row between them. Each time they argued about it, Taryn found herself tempted to tug her glove off and display her prosthetic, to shout, “Look, I am a biomaton! Am I inhuman?” Yet she knew to do so would be tantamount to suicide. She would lose everything, and for what? Just to gain the upper hand in an argument. It was not worth it. Taryn fell quiet, watching the other people in the room converse, knowing that if they were aware of what she was, they would never be so serene.

***

Grafton’s School of Mechanicks was located on the Strand, in an ancient stone building that had once been a private residence for a lesser-known member of the royal family. The building had been acquired and converted by Lord Grafton at the turn of the nineteenth century, the servants’ quarters converted to dorms, the vast house turned from luxurious suites to spartan classrooms. The grounds weren’t large or remarkable, but the central London location more than made up for it. A great clock had been installed in the school, a piece designed by a former student, and its ticking ruled the students’ lives like a massive heart beating at the centre of the community.


Taryn retired to her room early that evening, muttering an excuse about having homework. In reality, there wasn’t any pressing schoolwork requiring her attention. She needed to work on her prosthetic. Not for the first time, she was thankful to be the only girl at Grafton’s; it meant she did not have to hide from a roommate.


Having had no real maintenance on her clockwork arm since sometime before her twelfth birthday, Taryn had been forced to learn the art of repairing it herself. She had some natural intuition for clockwork, and had studied her arm so many times she knew it intimately. Still, it wasn’t in the condition it once had been. The arm was a touch too small and did not match her other hand anymore, try though she might to “grow” it along with the rest of her body. The difference wasn’t enough to attract attention, and her go-to answer when she was questioned was that the fire in which her parents had died had left her deformed. The lack of access to decent clockwork on the streets had forced her to make do with broken, rusty pieces; whatever she could find that would work. When Royal had pulled her off the streets, though, she’d suddenly had access to better parts, better clockwork with which to rebuild her prosthetic. It worked well now, though she had to oil it regularly to keep the mismatched pieces from sticking or grinding together.


Tonight, she was having trouble with her ring finger. The joint creaked a little when she moved it, and she needed to oil it to ensure the pieces fit together smoothly in order to stop the sound. She couldn’t have her finger creaking at an inopportune moment, revealing her secret. Slowly, Taryn drew the black silk glove from her clockwork hand, checking over her shoulder to reassure herself that the door was still closed and locked. She stared at her arm, still in awe of its intricacies even after all this time. The prosthetic limb was built to seem as human as possible. The frame was made of a fine mesh of gold and bronze fili‐ gree, essentially impervious to rust. It had been carefully shaped to mimic muscle and bone structure. Within the frame, the mechanisms that actually allowed her to use the arm as she would a real limb ticked away. If she followed the arm all the way up, it entered her shoulder, slipping through a thick leather pad that kept the metal from chafing or cutting her skin. The clockwork was attached to the tendons, muscles, and ligaments that remained after the fire. As far as she understood, that was how it worked. But the prosthetic was clearly so much more complicated than what she understood. The man who’d turned her into this hybrid was clearly a mechanickal genius.


Her graft had been a part of her for so long, sometimes she felt her fingertips really were sensitive, that her arm retained physical feeling. She knew this was impossible, but sometimes her arm ghosted, her brain tricking her into detecting sensation even where there was none. This was happening even as she worked on the joint of her ring finger, her fingers prickling as she bumped them. It aggravated her, but she’d long ago learned that there was nothing to do but wait it out.


Taryn flexed the finger, listening for the telltale squeak of mechanisms misaligned. She was greeted instead with silence, and she smiled, satisfied she’d managed to fix it. Her secret was safe for another day.


Sighing, Taryn sat on the edge of her bed, the image of the biomaton boy in the museum returning, as if it were burned on the back of her eyes. It still bothered her, still made her feel sick, still made her angry. She wondered about the boy—who he had been, who he’d belonged to, what he’d felt when they told him he was going to be a museum display.


She knew they probably hadn’t told him anything. The men who owned him did not even believe he was human. They would not have told him what they had planned. Most likely, he had been strapped to a table, chloroformed, and simply never woke u