In honor of Halloween this month, we will be featuring reviews of some new and upcoming spine-tingling reads. From ghosts to zombies and everything in between, look for the Frightening Fall Reads banner when you are ready for something spooky this month! Today we have a YA horror story that tackles the apocalypse. Read on to find out if this end-of-the world tale lived up to its creepy premise…
Engines of the Broken World by Jason Vanhee
Genre: YA Apocalyptic Horror
Publication Date: 5 November 2013
ARC Provided by Netgalley and Henry Holt and Co.
Christal’s Review – 2.5 Skulls – C
Engines of the Broken World is a hard book to review. On one hand, it was undeniably readable; the pages just zipped along and I enjoyed the narrative style. On the other, the story was just… weird and the ending was somewhat unsatisfying, even though I understand why it had to be that way. This will definitely be a decisive book. I think readers will either love it or hate it, no real in between.
This book is even difficult to summarize. Engines of the Broken World starts with two siblings, Merciful and Gospel Truth, trying to decide what to do with their dead mother. She has just passed away, but it is too cold outside to bury her. The are constantly accompanied by an entity they refer to as The Minister that preaches gospel and gives them guidance, all the while in the shape of an animal. He changes from a cat to a dog to a squirrel at different times, and I’m still not sure what the significance of this was. Any who, the children decide to leave their mother in the kitchen because it is very cold. Everything seems to be okay until Merciful wakes up the next morning and her mother’s body is gone and she hears her singing a lullaby. Merciful soon finds out it is not her mother in the body anymore. Instead, it is an alternate version of her mother that has managed to cross over somewhat from another timeline. She tells Merciful that the world is ending and Gospel ends up confirming this randomly when he tells Merciful about the devastating fog he has seen and how it has wiped everything out around them. The children feel like the only people still alive and must decide who to listen to, the Minister or their not-Mother, because the fate of the world might rest with them.
From the book’s synopsis, I had thought this would turn out to be some kind of zombie or vampire story. That was not it at all and what Engines of the Broken World turned out to be was much stranger. From here on out there will probably be slight spoilers, but I can’t think of how to discuss this book without them.
Merciful and Gospel were pretty much opposite characters. Merciful was the hard-working, dutiful daughter that resented her brother for leaving her alone so much and Gospel was the difficult, willful child who ran amok in th surrounding forests to escape his home life. Though they had their underlying tension, they eventually came to an understanding about one another and realized how much love they had and how they really did depend on one another. While Gospel remained a little one-dimensional, Merciful was a fascinating character. She seems so small and weak on the outside, but she had an enormous amount of determination and mental strength. She spent a lot of this book being uncertain and did flip-flop in her trust quite a bit, but I was happy to see her make her own decision and stand firm in the end.
As for the secondary characters in Engines of the Broken World, the Minister was very strange. He was sent as spiritual guidance for the town but no one really knows why or from where. He did show himself to be a good and true character in the end, but there were quite a few times during the story where I was wondering just what exactly he was up to. The entity possessing the children’s mother, whom Merciful begins to refer to as Auntie, was way out of left field. Her character threw this story for a loop and was one of the weakest aspects for me. She was apparently a research scientist in what I am assuming to be our current world, and somehow figured out a way to transfer her consciousness to Merciful’s world. Auntie was an alternate version of their mother from another timeline basically, and the connection between Auntie and the children’s mother was what ended up driving their mother insane and eventually to her death. Got all that? I still could not tell you how she was actually able to transfer her consciousness to the mother’s body and to actually control it. This aspect was explained hazily and relied on the minute notion that Auntie and the mother were the same person just in divergent timelines. There were a couple of other characters in this story like Jenny Gone and the Widow Cally, but the story mainly focused on Merciful, Gospel, the Minister, and Auntie.
So, like I was saying, I expected Engines of the Broken World to be a zombie/vampire story when the mother started to come back to life. Instead, it became an apocalyptic story because God had decided it was time to end the world and start over again. Auntie came through to Merciful’s world because she thought there was something there that could stop the apocalypse. She tries to talk Merciful into helping her while the Minister tries to convinces her to remain faithful to God and to accept her fate.
Christianity was a very large part of this story and even after thinking about this book for a few nights, I’m still not 100% sure of the message the author was trying to impart. Apparently the Minister was sent to them to make the people good again and to help prepare their souls for acceptance into heaven. I have a really big problem wrapping my head around that. So, God wants to wipe out the world because the people are wicked, but the Ministers convince him to delay the apocalypse. Instead of an abrupt flood, it will be a gradual winding down. During this winding down time, the Ministers preach to their flock and help the people to become truly good again. They also eliminate almost all sin and wicked deeds. People live simply and in peace. But, even though this is what God wants and is pretty much his hope for when he starts over, he still decides to wipe everyone out and take a shot on a whole new Creation? I just don’t buy it. Throughout Engines of the Broken World, Merciful and Gospel have to make this same decision on what they buy into. At times it seems like they do believe it is not for them to question the will of God but then at others it seems like they feel a God who would eliminate them for the sins of others was not a worthy God. They go back and forth between following the guidance of the Minister, his words being those of acceptance of the end, and listening to Auntie to try to stop the apocalyptic fog. In the end, Merciful finds herself alone and she must decide what her last actions will be. The ending was a bit anticlimactic for me, going out with a whimper instead of a bang. I do understand why the ending was written that way, but I still wanted it to be different.
Religion is such a personal choice that I don’t really want to talk too much about it in my review, but it plays a huge part in this book. I just want readers going into Engines of the Broken World to be aware of how much of the plot surrounds it and the questions it inherently brings. Overall, this book just left me with too many questions and feeling unsatisfied. There seemed to be a lot of plot holes surrounding Auntie and her ability to connect with Merciful’s world as well as the mission of the Minister. While I felt this was a completely original idea and I am looking forward to the next book by Jason Vanhee, this particular book just did not work for me.
Thank you to Netgalley and Henry Holt and Co. for providing an ARC copy of this book!
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