Pretty much everything here originally appeared at my actual blog: By Singing Light. I particularly focus on upper middle-grade and young adult books. I also enjoy adult genre books, especially speculative fiction.
There are some books that are a bit difficult to review, because all you want to do is talk about THAT ONE THING, except that THAT ONE THING is intensely spoilery, and you don’t want to spoil anything. (See: Code Name Verity.) Engines of the Broken World is one of these books, which means I’ll be dancing around what I really want to say the whole time.
And I really don’t want to give you all plot summary, either. I had a vague sense of setting when I went in and not much else. So all I’ll say is that there’s a girl named Merciful and her world is ending in ice, in fog, with a whimper.
Oh, and the first half of this book is one of the scariest things I’ve ever read. It’s not horror, in the sense of Stephen King or Rick Yancey. It’s not even exactly the “something’s about to jump out at you” kind of scary. Instead, it’s quiet, chilling, insidious. Bad things happen, and there’s a sense of something not quite right. And then you hit a particular page and stop halfway through, because something there didn’t add up and then you flip back frantically to confirm your suspicions. And all the time, the world is shrinking, quite literally.
Merciful, being in the world, doesn’t see all of this as clearly; she can’t flip back to earlier chapters and confirm her suspicions. But because her voice is strong and beautifully written, I never felt annoyed with her for being dense. Scared for her, yes, because if she doesn’t figure it out, terrible things are going to happen. Scared for her, because they’re happening anyway.
Now, for me, the middle third or so of the book didn’t quite work for me–the pacing slowed down a bit and there was a lot of new information that didn’t quite fit together smoothly. There were still some genuinely horrifying and arresting scenes, and Merciful’s voice is so strong that she carried me though it. But I also wasn’t quite as sure about the way religious themes were used in this section, and how they fit with the world that had been so amazingly drawn earlier.
But then the ending–oh, the ending. Wow. Pitch perfect, gorgeously written, able to take a piece of text that has been used so often that it is almost bare of meaning and somehow make it so emotionally affective that I cried my way through it. I finished and thought, “This is how you end a book.”
Despite its unevenness, this one is gutsy and beautiful. I highly recommend it for the evocative setting and the characters, especially Merciful. And I will definitely keep an eye out for whatever Vanhee writes next.
Book source: public library
Book information: 2013, Henry Holt & Co; upper mg/YA (for the middle grade kid who doesn’t mind some violence & scariness)