on 10 August 2013
Engn by Simon Kewin is a little fantasy, steampunk and adventure all rolled into one.
"The Ironclads lifted Finn and heaved him into the moving engine. He kicked and bucked, skinning the knuckles of his left hand on the hatch as he tried to stop himself, but it was no good."
Finn lives in a small village in the mountains. Like other children, he grew up hearing stories of the brutal Ironclads and their home base- Engn. Few have seen it and returned. Engn is said to be one great machine. Every day it grows more and more, so more hands are needed to man it. The masters of Engn take the labour they require. They send their Ironclads out into every village, every home, picking up children to be brought to their city. It is not a request you can refuse.
Finn's sister was taken when he was little. Though painful, his parents assured him this meant he was safe. They can't take more than one per family, and he lives his life in relief. Until they show up at his door, and the long journey to the contained city begins. No one gets in unless they're taken. No one gets out, apart from those tasked with bringing in more hands.
But Finn has a plan. A promise he made with two friends years ago. One was taken, the other vanished. Their promise- to destroy Engn. But that is easier said than done. It's only when he arrives in Engn that he realises what a task that is. An iron dictatorship runs the city. The people are slaves. Broken and beaten, their bodies used to fuel the furnaces when they're deemed useless. Eyes are everywhere. What can one boy do against the might of Engn?
The first quarter of the book is told alternating between past and present. Most of the time spent in the former- we see Finn's life so far, and how he came to be where he is now. By the first third, he has reached Engn and the story really begins.
This is a slow-paced novel. There are action sequences, but they're so short and few that most of the story drags. What should be a tension-filled book, lacks it because most of it is spent seemingly doing nothing. Reading this book was like walking from A to B. You can enjoy the walk, the scenery can be varied and pleasant, but in the end you're still just trying to get to point B. There's nothing engaging enough about the scenery to make you stop and enjoy it. This isn't a hugely long book, but it felt very drawn out, and I found myself just wanting to reach point B.
The story isn't bad, the characters aren't bad, the plot isn't bad. In fact there's nothing bad about this book, but there's something lacking that means the story doesn't work as it should. I can like or dislike a slow-paced book depending, but for a slow story to still be gripping and enthralling, it has to be done extremely well, and unfortunately this isn't.
The ending is predictable. In fact, there aren't really any surprise plot-twists at all. I could guess the main plot points, which isn't a bad thing in itself, as long as they keep you interested. It's been a long time since I've read a book I had to force myself through, and regrettably this is one of those.
The basic premise sounds interesting enough, but the writing and pace let it down. Steampunk world in a dystopian setting sounds like something that could be great. The Pavlovian argument that people can be conditioned- that if you 'train' them enough, they'll respond subconsciously to your orders is one we've seen before. Done right, it can create a chilling atmosphere, but done wrong and it serves no real purpose. I'm afraid to say it's the latter in this story.
I've been pretty negative about the story, so I want to reiterate- this is not a bad book. The main hurdle to overcome with this book is its pace. If you can get past the fact that nothing ever seems to be happening, even during crucial 'saving-the-world' scenes, you might enjoy this book. The characters aren't bad, but I didn't really feel attached to any of them as I usually would. The story just comes off a little flat, lacking depth and character.
It's amazing that the book could tell us so much, without really telling us anything. Nothing is ever explained. I don't even think that any of the characters knew anything. They were just doing it because it's the way of things. This may sound ironic considering my above comments, but a little more description would've been nice. For instance, I have no idea where or when this book is set. It's clearly not our world, and I'm pretty sure it's on another planet, but like I said, it's not explained. Not that is needs to be. It wouldn't really add anything to the story, but it would solidify the setting a little more.
I don't regret reading it, but I don't think I'd do so again. In this end, this was just getting from point A to B.
Disclaimer: I received this book from the author through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.