Welcome to another edition of Dragonmount's Fantasy Review. This edition will talk about the novella The God Engines by Hugo award winner, John Scalzi.
Slight spoilers will follow.
The God Engines
By John Scalzi
This story is about a god who rules over the land and the Bishopry Militant. This god, the one all people in the empire worship, is only supreme because of his many followers. Other gods, the Defiled, are chained and tortured for their powers, their followers' faith not strong enough to give them the power to escape.
Ean Tephe is the captain of the ship The Righteous, with a special mission to convert new followers among the stars. The faith of someone who knows no gods is greater than someone who has converted. So Tephe's mission is of the highest importance to his god. The added faith of so many would make the god much more powerful.
While travelling, Tephe gets caught in a struggle between the two powerful gods, his own and the Defiled acting as his ship's engine. But, when they reach their destination, his own god's acts are not in line with what Tephe thinks is right. He questions his god, and the Defiled is able to break free. When the gods pit their powers against each other, Tephe and his crew are at their mercy.
The writing in this story is amazing. The mood is dark and foreboding. The characters fleshed out and interesting. The universe, and the gods, so alive and detailed. Scalzi did an incredible job on this story.
One thing I really enjoyed is that it makes you think. It's not pro-religion or anti-religion, as I saw it. It's more a question of looking at religion, seeing both sides of it. And because of this, though it deals with some deep subjects, like faith and trust, it's not preachy or heavy-handed. It seemed almost philosophical to me. A detailed look at a system of deities and their followers, but still remaining objective.
The ending is beautifully ironic and tragic. It was jarring, and so well crafted, it may be one of the best endings I've ever encountered. There are several shocking moments throughout the story, lots of surprises and plot twists, but nothing compares to the ending.
The only con I could find with this book is the length. It's very short. I think this world and magic system could be developed far more than it was. That isn't to say the story is lacking anything; it's nearly perfect the way it is. However, the world is so interesting; I hope Scalzi will visit it again. Using the power of chained gods for star travel is such a unique idea!
This is one of the best stories I've read in the past few years. It's fiction, but with a deeper purpose; you can read it for entertainment, but there's so much more beneath the surface, so much to think and explore. Scalzi surely is a master storyteller, just from the way he crafted this incredible tale and world.
On a side note, after finishing this book, I was able to meet Scalzi at the Phoenix Comicon in 2013. I told him how much I enjoyed this story, and he kind of laughed. He said that this book is so different in style and tone than all his others—I guess he's pretty well known for the humor in his writings; The God Engines didn't have very many humorous situations. So, he said I would be in for a shock if I expected this kind of thing with his other books. I haven't had a chance to read any others by him, but make sure you keep that in mind if you also want to delve into Scalzi's collection of works.