ENGN BY Simon Kewin, December House, p/b, $3.27, www.simonkewin.co.uk
Reviewed by Sandra Scholes
It’s really interesting to enter a world of mystery and steampunk and even I know that this is more than just mere steampunk, there is a lot to this story, and it’s a mystery that only the reader can solve as Simon doesn’t do the thinking for us, he merely lays out the groundwork and the clues for us to solve the mystery. It’s not uncommon for writers to throw these sort of novels out at the public, Simon has the credentials to do just that; he is the author of over a hundred published short and flash stories, and his other two novels Genehunter and the Cloven Land trilogy are a couple of his much longer works. His fiction has featured in Abyss & Apex, Daily Science Fiction and Nature and I have a feeling that this won’t be all.
The real mystery of this novel is the city sized machine called Engn. The name might sound simple, but the story is anything but. The basic premise is that the Engn is so large and ever expanding that it constantly needs humans to run it, so these people are routinely taken from their homes and never seen again. Now there could be several possibilities for this, the people are used to work the machine, age and die or the machine feeds off of the humans as though they are food, making it part organic in some way.
The Ironclads are the ones who come for the people, and when two characters get involved there could be the possibility that Engn could be destroyed. Engn has ruined many families who have had people stolen, but there is a dual problem with Finn and Connor who have both made a pact they have said they would honour – while Connor still wants to end the Engn’s parasitic lifespan, he thinks Finn might not be as enthusiastic as him and could become part of the machine. The story is an enigma; the two main characters are always searching for answers, but never find them. Why is it people are taken away? How did the Engn come to be created? And what is the truth behind Engn? Finn has a good enough reason to hate the Engn as his sister was taken away by the Ironclads, then his friend Connor, and later he is next, becoming the oppressed people’s last hope for a better world.
I liked the cover design with all its cogs and clockwork mechanisms as it helped along the steampunk feel I got when I read it. The idea was a good one and I was impressed at the element of horror attached to the Engn in the story; it is a huge beast that has an army of people to make sure it keeps in tip top working order. No one knows why it is there or what its purpose is and that makes it a dangerous thing as no one finds out what it does until they are taken away to it. Human slavery, the fear of being the next one taken away is enough to make anyone scared of the Engn on the hill. As the book doesn’t hold the answers to the questions they are likely to ask throughout the story, readers will fall into one of two categories; ones who can fill in the blanks and answer these questions after feeling as though they have an understanding of the novel, or they can’t quite figure the story out and are baffled right up until the end. Either way, I have read novels like these before and understand the need for reader participation in many ways.