Review: Engines of the Broken World

Engines of the Broken World by Jason Vanhee. Henry Holt & Co. Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group. 2013. Reviewed from ARC.

The Plot: Merciful Truth’s mother is dead. She and her brother don’t quite know what to do, so they put her under the kitchen table.

Each year there are fewer and fewer people, so there aren’t even that many they can turn to for help. It’s just Merciful and Gospel and the Minister. The Minister shares the words of righteousness: so a lot of nosy advice but not much by way of practicalities.

Merciful doesn’t know what to do. And that’s before she starts hearing something from the kitchen. Before she starts hearing her dead mother’s voice.

The Good: “It snowed the day our mother died, snow so hard and so soft at the same time that we could neither bury her nor take her out to the barn.”

Let me be very, very clear: this is the strangest, weirdest, most original book I’ve read all year.

Let me think twice about that…..

Nope, right the first time.

At first I thought — from her name and manner of speech — that Merciful and her brother lived in some type of religious settlement, one that has rejected modern conveniences, set slightly in the future. A place where most of those had left.

That’s a bit right. When Merciful talks about her world shrinking and people disappearing and the continuing sense of isolation, I thought it was a metaphor. A exaggeration. Instead — it’s real.

For the rest, that was all our animals gone, and winter only just beginning, and that was a bad thing. Though if the fog was really coming, and the end of everything with it, I didn’t guess it much mattered.

Merciful’s world is slowly ending, it is indeed a broken place, and somehow, for some reason, the small cabin that Merciful and Gospel shared with their mother and the strange Minister is hanging on. The Minister — what is the Minister? It’s always been a part of their lives. It’s like the table in the kitchen.

I didn’t guess it much mattered.” If the world is ending, if everything is going, dying or disappearing into a fog, does anything matter?

As I read this, I kept thinking — really? A book about the world ending, not with a bang but a whimper, as fog slowly creeps in, as the cold descends, as the dead don’t stay dead, as the Minister warns and preaches and cautions and threatens. And the horror of Engines of the Broken World is not gore or slash or monsters. It’s the voice coming from her dead mother’s body, it’s the cold and fog, it’s the dwindling resources, it’s the growing sense that there may be no way out.

The voice coming from Merciful’s dead mother slowly begins to make sense. To call to Merciful. To make some sort of sense. It cautions Merciful about the “machine,” and the reader quickly realizes what the “machine” is. Merciful herself has never heard the term before. And the Minister, in it’s animal shape — and pay attention to that form — speaks. “I am a Minister of Grace, shaping the world to make it better, holier, more suited for the Lord.”

And Merciful looks at the Minister, and thinks, “It sounded like normal Minister talk, but I had never heard this line before, never in all the days of my life. I wondered if this was what Auntie had been talking about, because these words made it sound like the Minister was certainly changing things, making the world different. Destroying it, but maybe to save it?

What is the nature of Merciful’s world? Is it, indeed, our world? Or is there something else going on?

Engines of the Broken World is about the end of the world, and what one young girl does as that world ends. It’s about discovering the origins of the world. It’s about God and faith and religion and belief. It’s about learning that the world may be destroyed — or saved — or both — and a decision having to be made, a decision only Merciful can make.

As I said — the strangest, weirdest, most original book I’ve read all year.

So, of course, it’s one of my Favorite Books Read in 2013.

Other reviews: Stacked; Jenna Does Books.






4 thoughts on “Review: Engines of the Broken World

  1. Reviewed this one for VOYA, and while I felt that a lot it didn’t really work as well as it could have, I definitely agree that it is “the strangest, weirdest, most original book I’ve read all year”. Also, probably the most perfect ending I’ve read in a while, which is not nothing.


    1. This is one of those books where I give extra credit for trying something that is so far out there, even if there were some uneven parts. I also like that books like this are being published — ones that are so unique. And the ending!!! Yes. Yes. Yes.


    2. I’m adding nothing to this conversation or responding with thought to the review but I had to jump in and agree: BEST. ENDING. EVER. I so rarely find the ending of horror novels to be satisfying but this one nailed it.


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