engines of the broken world

Engines of the Broken World by Jason Vanhee

Merciful’s mother has finally died.  After years of growing more and more confused and cruel, she died as the weather grew colder and colder.  Merciful and her brother Gospel had wanted to bury her properly but the bitter weather had worsened and prevented them from digging a hole.  The snow came too, lashing the windows and keeping them from even venturing out to the barn to check on the animals.  So they put their mother under the table and went to bed.  The Minister, in an animal form, said prayers over her but was also firm in saying that she needed a proper burial.  Merciful is starting breakfast the next morning when she hears it, a voice she thought she would never hear again, singing her childhood song.

This novel is completely unique.  It is the story not of a post-apocalyptic world but of the days leading directly into an apocalypse.  Yet it is also a book that explores religion in a way that will certainly bother many people.  This is a religion beyond decay, heading into the final days, one that is flagging but still powerful.  Even better, it is one that is familiar to many of us.  Now add zombies to this complex world, and you are starting to understand why this book is so difficult to explain.

Against this dire setting, we have two young characters Merciful and Gospel.  The two do not get along, both approaching the world from different places.  Yet given the claustrophobic setting, the two are forced to see the truth about each other and their strengths.  It is this setting of a blizzard at the end of the world that makes this book so haunting.  Vanhee writes in a voice that we haven’t heard before either, he tinkers with perception of the characters, and he has created a book where you can’t trust much at all.  It is a wonderfully slippery book, that changes underneath you and turns into something unexpected.  Yet it is also filled with moments of great beauty and character. 

A horror book for teens, this is also something much more.  It is a beautifully written apocalypse that is harrowing, striking and powerful.  Appropriate for ages 13-15.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.