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Engines of the Broken World by Jason Vanhee

Engines of the Broken World

by Jason Vanhee

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
This was a very unique book: an original and disturbing dystopia/horror hybrid. I wasn't quite sure what to make of it at first, but the plot quickly grew on me. The atmosphere was definitely spooky and often disconcerting (but talking corpses tend to do that to me). A weird but compelling read.
  clear_tranquil | Apr 24, 2016 |
Jason Vanhee has caught my attention with his first book, Engines of the Broken World. The story revolves around Merciful Truth, a 12-year-old girl who lives in a cabin with her mother, a distant older brother, and a mysterious figure simply called "the Minister" who takes the form of talking animals. When her mother dies during the middle of a snowstorm and the children are forced to put her body under the table instead of burying her, a creepy and fascinating story starts to unfold, with Merciful at the center of it.

A while ago I reviewed a book called [b: Bleeding Violet|6364657|Bleeding Violet |Dia Reeves|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1335123378s/6364657.jpg|6551896] by [a: Dia Reeves|2885316|Dia Reeves|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1241028065p2/2885316.jpg]. In it, I mentioned that I was torn between being impressed by the sheer creativity of the ideas, but the chaotic nature of them turned me off. Engines of the Broken World managed to take the best of that - an almost truly original premise turned fresh by some excellent prose - and constrained the chaos into something more sleek and manageable. The story is fresh, definitely creative, and Vanhee is a wonderful writer.

But I still waffled between giving it 3 and 4 stars because the tone of the book was disjointed. The beginning is classic horror, and very well done - very few books actually manage to frighten me, but this one sent shivers up my spine more than once. If nothing else, Vanhee should be applauded for his excellent grasp of giving the reader just enough to get their imagination going without overshowing, which is a talent I don't see very often.

However, about 80 pages in or so, the book takes a turn to the sci-fi. Despite the tone change, even this one I could have lived with, because the writing saved it from being too jarring. I was so enjoying the horror aspect though, that I do admit feeling a tad bit disappointed that it had suddenly taken another direction.

And then suddenly towards the end, there was yet another tone change, suddenly becoming a religious story.

Each by themselves, I think Vanhee has the writing chops to pull off any of those three genres, but very few writers are talented enough to pull off all three in one book without leaving the reader confused and a bit cheated.

The religious aspect never quite panned for me, either. For one, it felt that there was meant to be some message or parable near the end, but it was muddled. When "Auntie" reveals that the problems of her world stem from a collective apathy, I thought, "Oh, so that's his point, that our apathy makes us collectively culpable for the end of the world," but then the man inhabiting the Widow's body seemed to be a pure devil figure bent on destruction. It felt very much like the author was struggling to make some point, but it could never quite coalesce - or that he was trying to make too many points all at once.

The other problem was with the ending itself. Merciful's thoughts pinball back and forth - first she can't hurt Minister, then she will kill him, then she can't definitely, then she does. The back-and-forth nature of the ending cheated the reader of the big climactic moment. A change of heart once, maybe even twice, is okay and might even surprise the reader - constantly vacillating, however, dampens the impact of Merciful's final actions.

Then came the very end - the last word of the novel. It was beautiful writing. It was sentimental. It was meaningful. But it also annoys the hell out of me. I understand the temptation to ambiguous endings - but this felt very much like the last word was just too good to not close on, even at the sake of providing some closure to the story. For a very artistic ending, it was an excellent choice. For a story, however, it was cheap and annoying.

Overall, the writing and creativity nudge it up to four stars, but the tone and ideas were just too muddled to solidify into a favorite. That said, I will definitely be keeping an eye out for Vanhee's future novels. ( )
  kittyjay | Jul 18, 2015 |
Ungrateful Children

The winter is getting colder and 12 year-old Merciful Truth's mama just died after a long illness. Her 15 year-old brother, Gospel, says that they can't bury her because the ground is frozen. The minister tells them it's not right to leave the dead unburied and castigates them for being ungrateful children to the mother than birthed them - but he's just a cat. But as the storm worsens and the world outside shrinks they can't possibly go dig a hole, and so they put her under the kitchen table. But then Merciful hears the lullaby her mother used to sing to her before the sickness got too bad... and it's coming from their mother.

This is an incredibly creepy story as the two children try to understand what's happening around them, and readers will be mystified at the minister. Vanhee tells the story with cleverness in the voice of Merciful, with - I think - an Appalacian feeling and dialect, and I found it nearly impossible to put down, finishing the last couple hundred pages in an evening. But not being able to put down a book might make it "compelling," but doesn't necessarily mean it's an enjoyable read. It's a bleak and lonely world, and although Vanhee skillfully wrings every last drop out of a small and limited setting and brings characters to life (in more ways than one!) with amazing "voice," I just found myself reading to finish and be done with it. It's certainly a well-crafted story and I "liked" it, but I wanted to like it more than I did. Still, if you want a creepy "end-of-the-world" tale and don't mind a stiff dose of darkness, you'll find yourself clinging to this one right to the last page. ( )
  J.Green | Aug 26, 2014 |
This nihilistic approach to a post-apocalyptic world, is definitely horrifying. I suspect it is science fiction in nature, but I wouldn't characterize it as dystopia. It is lacking in the explanatory markers. It has the hopeful rebel, but even she is obliterated.

Perhaps the only thing worse than having one's parent rise as a mindless zombie, is to have them rise as a fragmented version of their previous selves. A version of the mother that is selfish and frightening in pursuit of life that is already over.

The story is written in such a way that you spend much of your time questioning almost every character and element.

I enjoy foreshadowing and plot twists, but I don't enjoy leaving a story with a sense of too much unresolved.

Does this world exist at all? Is it in the mind of a person? Is it a computer program? A war precipitated a split in the "realities", but what created the differing realities?

And I don't know that I would suggest this book to many people. The nihilism is frightening, since it doesn't have any explanation beyond a vague and abstract one. And it ends with absolutely no hope. ( )
  LoftyIslanders | Mar 3, 2014 |
After a long illness, Merciful Truth’s mother dies. She and her brother Gospel want to give her a proper burial, but the ground is frozen solid so they stash her under the kitchen table, instead. As they sit shivering, Gospel tells his sister of a sinister fog that he’s seen while out hunting, a whiteness that seems to reduce everything it touches to nothing. As the fog closes in, Gospel reasons, it’s ending the world, and eventually it will wash over their farmhouse and they will cease to exist, too. The only thing that offers comfort is the Minister, a strange animal-like thing that offers words of solace even as it continues to hide secrets from the children…

Engines of the Broken World is a richly atmospheric tale that makes your skin crawl as you anticipate the approach of that oozing, threatening white fog. But hey, what sort of story can you expect when it opens on a girl stashing her mother's body under the kitchen table? When the dead won’t lie still and a shape-shifting made creature preaches to small children, it’s hard to predict where the next prickle at the back of your neck will come from. It’s the end of the world, but no one feels fine about it.

At times, the characters seem incredibly dense. Merciful is told to that she must find a machine and destroy it if she's to save the world, and she dutifully tries. It's so obvious to the reader what machine needs to be destroyed, but Merciful spends pages and pages not figuring this out, and after a while you want to smack her upside the head and shout, "MERCY IT'S [REMOVED FOR SPOILERS]!!! DUH!!!" Sometimes she sounds like a very small girl, while at other times she’s nearly an adult, and this constant back-and-forth adds to the uncertainty of the text.

One of the problems that I kept running into is a certain stiffness to the writing. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. Maybe it’s just that the story is told through Merciful’s uneven old-lady-young-child voice, or the fact that neither she nor her brother sounds like “real” children. Then again, it may be the archaic King James style of speaking employed by the Minister, and the sort of half-baked and reprocessed version of heavy-handed religion he spouts.

Or maybe the constant ambiguity simply overwhelms after a while. Nothing is certain in the story save that the world is getting smaller, but even that’s not quite so. As the white fog devours the world, Merciful is learning about a larger “other” world in her conversations with her mother’s corpse, so her universe is expanding rapidly. Her uncertainty is made clearer when it’s revealed that the Minister has some ability to block or erase her memories of it. It’s soon clear to the reader that the narrator is fundamentally unreliable. Can we really know what’s happening? Throw in an unresolved, wide-open ending, and the net result is simply discomfort. ( )
  makaiju | Mar 2, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805096299, Hardcover)

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. . . .

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:27 -0400)

In a rural village far distant from the dead and dying cities, twelve-year-old Merciful discovers horrible secrets and must make decisions that may save or doom her world.

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