The Devil’s Engine by Alexander Gordon Smith has a great little tag line on the intriguing cover: “The Machine will give you everything, If you’re willing to risk everything.” But, it can’t make me give the book more than an “ok” rating.
Marlow Greene ends up in a no-win-situation and he enters into a contract with a machine, supposed to be the “devil’s engine” or something (not sure it was really created by the devil, but the bad guys want it so they can spread evil) – that will have him turn his soul over should he not survive an impossibly short time frame, unless some “lawyers” – which aren’t really lawyers but more like mechanical engineers – can figure out how to break the contract. And there is a girl and a best friend and the need to save the world from the bad guys. But, in typical YA twist, is the bad side really bad and is the good side really good? That plot twist came from nowhere because, well, the author did a piss poor job of building in any foreshadowing, even when looking back on the story. Or maybe it’s just because the plot was so confusing and weird that I missed the hints.
What ever the case, I struggled with this book. Big time. The way the machine worked…? More strange then creepy. The environment and settings…? More forced and hard to picture mentally then noir or dramatic. The characters…? More selfish and one-dimensional than sympathetic or interesting. The kick-ass action that was promised…? More like Nicholas Cage in Ghost Rider and way less like Jean-Claude Van Damme in his best (say what you will about his acting, he kicks serious ass – and as for his best, well, i leave that up to you to decide). The little bit of romance other readers saw…? More depressing and creepy than… well… the creepy parts of this book should have been.
It was clear that the author was no amateur. But the story was really hard to read. It wasn’t the compelling supernatural story I was looking to read. And it wasn’t the dark and creepy and gruesome that I was expecting (because I recall that netgalley, where I got this had it classified as horror). There were some creepy parts (the romance with Pan because of a contract… sheesh…) but overall, it didn’t live up to the expectations that I had based on what I have heard about the author’s other stuff.
All things considered, I thought it was “ok”. There was just enough of interest to make me consider reading the second, but not enough to make me really care enough to set up a page or say “bravo”. At lease not yet anyway. I never seem to agree with the fancy book reviewers (NY Times, I am talking to you), but I need to stop believing the book blogs’ reviews or I am likely to have my expectations dashed again and again. Hellfighters, #2 in this series, is set for later this year. I am fairly certain I will read it – with the hope that it lives up to expectations better.