Note: Thanks to Tor Books for providing the Advance Reading Copy of this title
First off, apologies to the kind folks at Tor who sent me this ebook gratis, only for it to languish in my virtual bookpile while real life took precedence. A few gigs for my band and, more importantly, a burgeoning relationship with a wonderful girl, got in the way. So my best-laid plans to have this finished, reviewed and posted before the February 11th publication date went awry. However it’s finally done, so without further ado…
The Waking Engine follows Cooper, an average New Yorker who awakens one day to find himself in a completely alien city and being investigated by two strangers. The mysterious pair, Asher and Sesstri, take Cooper back to their lodgings to help him recuperate and continue their probing. Having ascertained that he is not the man they’re looking for they toss him into the unfamiliar streets to fend for himself.
Cooper stumbles around his new surroundings in a disoriented daze, trying to make sense of the new world in which he’s been unceremoniously dumped. After run-ins with undying prostitutes and beer-soaked soldiers he recruits a young Richard Nixon to help him find the two miscreants who first stumbled upon him. Nixon is only too happy to offer his services in exchange for a Danzig t-shirt. On returning to their abode, Asher and Sesstri explain the situation.
He is now a citizen of the City Unspoken. Death, it transpires, is not the end. We all live countless lives, floating from one universe to another in a near-endless series of rebirths. However, we all must experience True Death eventually, and when our time is up we arrive at the City Unspoken for our final journey. But there’s a problem. An occurrence known as the svarning is under way. People are no longer dying and the city is becoming choked with souls who can no longer move on. Bound to their bodies, the populace can die over and over again in any fashion imaginable, only to find themselves back in the same old flesh, same old city. Stranger still, the former lords of the City Unspoken have been enclosed in the Dome at the heart of the misshapen metropolis. Aristocratic insanity reigns within, exacerbated that one of their number has found a weapon which allows its victims to experience True Death and is using it to trim the ranks of their peers.
No sooner is this exposition out of the way than Cooper is kidnapped, forcing Asher and Sesstri into action. They must recover their newfound friend whom it transpires may after all have been the one they are looking for. And then there is the matter of the svarning to deal with. What is it, what caused it and how can they reverse it before the world they know is destroyed by the overflowing legions of undying?
The Waking Engine is David Edison’s debut novel and it’s a very impressive one for that. It’s a dense, intricate read which crams you full of new information on every turn of the page, but despite that it’s a beautifully crafted, flowing novel. The world-building put me in mind of a bastard hybrid of China Mieville and JG Ballard and the very tone of the story is reminiscent of the same pair. It has a sparse and bleak but urgent quality to it, apparent in the plot as well as the prose itself. Edison seems to be a fiend for detail and takes great pleasure in fleshing out every aspect of the universe he has created, using a true talent for words to perfectly sculpt his world.
Admittedly the very weight of the text can start dragging. It took me a long time to really get into the swing of things, having to wade through detailed descriptions of a scenario in which I wasn’t yet fully invested. The first fifty pages or so were a slog to be honest. It pays off though and before long I was steaming through the pages at full speed, even having to remind myself to slow down and appreciate the writing instead of wolfing it down. Another slight downside was the character of the protagonist, Cooper. He seemed a little flat for a starring role and I found it difficult to connect with him in any meaningful way most of the time. Asher and Sesstri are another story though, much better written and easier to identify with their motivation.
There’s a lot to recommend The Waking Engine. Okay, it may not be the best title to go for if you’re looking for something to while away a long plane journey. However if you want a slice of urban fantasy/sci-fi that you can really sink your teeth into, or if you just want to enjoy some extremely accomplished writing for its own sake, then it’s well worth a read.