Merciful Truth and her brother, Gospel, have just pulled their dead mother into the kitchen and stowed her under the table. It was a long illness, and they wanted to bury her—they did—but it’s far too cold outside, and they know they won’t be able to dig into the frozen ground. The Minister who lives with them, who preaches through his animal form, doesn’t make them feel any better about what they’ve done. Merciful calms her guilty feelings but only until, from the other room, she hears a voice she thought she’d never hear again. It’s her mother’s voice, and it’s singing a lullaby…
Tell Me More: The recent rise in horror-themed YA fiction is a trend I’ve watched with interest, and when I first heard about Engines of the Broken World, I thought it seemed like something right up my alley. Maybe I’m missing something, but this book was one of the most haphazard and confusing reads I’ve had in a long time.
Certainly, the mood of the story was creepy from the start, and even reading it during the daylight was still shudder-inducing. The writing style will be jarring to readers who are used to the more straightforward techniques used in YA. This is a challenging novel, in more ways than one, but it doesn’t actually follow through or reward the reader for working through the challenge. Characters drawn in broad strokes make it hard to understand the motivation behind their choices. Merciful feels like a puzzle, but the pieces aren’t clear enough to even begin to make sense, and I wasn’t ever sure what to think of Gospel.
In general, the story felt unfinished, as though it were a pie taken from the oven a few minutes too soon. The reader is left to draw their own conclusions about its themes, but there doesn’t seem to be any sort of rhyme or reason to it. Genres such as horror and fantasy still need to follow logical sense, or be tied to human logic in some way, and what I found in Engines of the Broken World was a half-sketched explanation. I also wasn’t quite sure of the point religion was supposed to serve in the story: if it was supposed to be a commentary on Christianity, belief or lack of, free will, or divine retribution. Maybe it was meant to be all of these things, but in attempting to capture them all, it didn’t manage to solidify any themes.
The Final Say: Some controversial views aside, Engines of the Broken World doesn’t reach the terrifying thematic heights it promises, but still contains some scenes that might convince you to keep your nightlight on.
Jason Vanhee was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. He writes in several genres and styles, including contemporary fiction, historical fiction, young adult, fantasy and horror. He once drank at every bar within the city limits of Seattle in a year in order to get out more often. He has worked around the world on Semester at Sea, which still amazes him. He appeared in a movie that was never released and as a result has a filmography scattered about the Internet that is essentially imaginary. He lives in his hometown with his husband, Adam.