Book Review: The God Engines

  • Hardcover | Epub: 136 pages (545 KB)
  • Publisher: Subterranean Press
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596062991
  • ISBN-13: 978-15960629

Captain Ean Tephe is a man of unwavering faith in his abilities, in his ship, and in his lord. The Bishopry Militant knows this; it is this exemplary characteristic that leads the Bishopry to entrust Captain Tephe with a sacred mission to a hidden world; a mission that could bring everlasting victory to their holy crusade once and for all.

The stakes are high, and Tephe knows that this mission will push his crew, his abilities, and his faith to their limits. But what Tephe does not know is that there are some terrible truths about his lord that he may not be prepared to face, and an insidious force that looks to destroy everything Tephe has ever worked for.

When John Scalzi (Old Man’s War, Zoe’s Tale) announced that he was writing a fantasy novella, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of dread. Don’t get me wrong: he’s a fantastic writer, hands down one of my favorite sci-fi authors of all time. But a lot of times when a writer tries to break out of his genre, the result is underwhelming – at least it is for me. Maybe it’s the shift in style that fits strangely like a new pair of pants. They’ll be fine and dandy after you break them in, but that first time you slip into them they just feel WRONG somehow.

The God Engines isn’t a traditional fantasy, but rather an unusual, yet enjoyable  mashup of techno-fantasy/horror and a few pages in I was devouring it like everything else Scalzi has produced. One of Scalzi’s strongest abilities as a writer is his sheer inventive nature when it comes to technology. Not only does he dream up some great devices and how they work, but how they work with the characters.

“It was time to whip the god.

Captain Ean Tephe entered the god chamber, small lacquered, filigreed chest in hand. He found blood on the deck, an acolyte spurting one and lying shivering on the other, and the god prostrate in its iron circle, its chains shortened into the circle floor. The healer Omll muttered over the acolyte. The god giggled into the iron its mouth was mashed into and flicked its tongue over red lips. A priest stood over the god, just outside the circle. Two other acolytes stood against the wall of the chamber, terrified.”

The ships of the Bishopry Militant are actually powered by vanquished gods that are imprisoned at the heart of each vessel. Most of these gods are usually pretty subdued creatures, and follow the directions of their captains without much fuss. But the god of Tephe’s vessel has to be ruled with an iron fist, and so they have to constantly torture him into compliance. Tephe himself gets no pleasure out of the cruelty he must inflict on his captive, but he doesn’t flinch from the task when its necessary. He meets out the punishment with a cold practicality that is chilling in its own right. This whole practice should be the first red flag that something is just wrong with the situation here.

Because Tephe and the subjects of the Bishopry Militant have such an open line of communication to their lord, you would think that faith would be a kind of impotent thing. After all, the whole point of faith is to believe in that which you can’t see. Tephe and the characters of this story are always having the greatness of their lord crammed in their faces. The being that Tephe and his people follow relies very heavily on grand gestures of majesty, not only to make them believe in him, but to keep them believing in them. This deification of power is a central theme in the novella and is a cautionary tale for mankind.  Just because someone has power greater than you or your understanding, does not mean they deserve your worship and adoration.

In all The God Engines is a successful experiment in fantasy, even if Scalzi did cheat a little and fall back on his sci-fi mastery. I’m glad that he did. It is a unique experience, and in spite of its dark ending that may leave you feeling a little drained it’s an overall enjoyable way to kill a couple hours.

I give The God Engines by John Scalzi 4 out of 5 stars.



If your interested in picking up a copy of The God Engines, you can head over to Amazon and pick up your copy here.

Brandon Johnston
Written by Brandon Johnston

Brandon is a Reporter, Critic, Tornado Alley Correspondent, Technomancer, and Book Department Editor for SciFi Mafia®. When he's not writing for SciFi Mafia®, he's busy being a dad, a novelist, and a man with more hobbies and interests than is healthy for any one person to have.