Publisher: Tor Books
Source: Review copy
The City Unspoken is the place where the dead come to die. After centuries, longer even, of death and rebirth on different worlds, all humanity, Earthborn or otherwise, ends their days in the City Unspoken. When Cooper, late of New York City, wakes in the city he is taken under the wing of Sesstri and Asher, two long-lived beings who are looking for a miracle worker. The pilgrims who come to the City Unspoken to die are no longer dying. Instead, they are causing a flood that threatens to overwhelm the land. Cooper has that rarest of things – a belly button – making him stand out from all others who wake in the city. Sesstri and Asher latch on to him but they do so rather carelessly and so Cooper is mostly left to his own dangerous devices, exploring the city and the men and women, gods, angels and demons who walk and haunt this unfamiliar world.
Cooper’s story isn’t the only one. Next to the city is a Dome, the home of the aristocrats. These glamorous men and women have been sealed into their glittering prison, their souls bound to their bodies by witchcraft. The result is that the merest affront to etiquette is met with swords and dismemberment. But nothing can prevent these merciless beautiful monsters from being endlessly reborn encased in the same bodies. But as The Waking Machine opens, the Dome’s ruler has vanished while a killer is loose, inflicting actual Death on the inhabitants. As the novel continues it becomes more and more likely that all these events, and much, much more, may be tied together and Cooper might just have the answer.
The Waking Engine is an extraordinary novel, a compelling urban fantasy, full of layers of wonder. There are so many memorable characters, not least a witch-like queen who is more machine than flesh, who is powered my little mechanical devices fuelled by impaled fairies. In other scenes, there is a daughter who every day tortures to death her long-suffering (literally), long-loving father. Along with the pilgrims who arrive in the city to die, there are those who are tied to it – the three types of whore, the devil-worshippers who prey on those who are thrilled by the promise of death, and those who visit the temple to cast off their religion. There is also the fun of discovering souls from history, most notably, for me, Cleopatra.
I’m not a big reader of fantasy, including urban fantasy, and so I wasn’t sure if The Waking Engine would suit me but its first half completely beguiled me. There are so many ideas and images flying around, I was caught up in them. The novel has a great premise and the worldbuilding lives up to it. However, as the novel continued it began to leave me behind. It is such an ambitious story that I found that there was far too much going on, too many main characters for the pages and so many surreal episodes that I lost my grip on it. A little more organisation would have gone a long way. Perhaps more importantly, I began to lose interest in Cooper. He might be the main character but he had too much competition for my attention and his story was arguably the least interesting of them all.
David Edison is clearly an interesting writer, with an imagination that flies, and the power to ensnare his reader in a beautifully-visualised world. I look forward to seeing where he goes from here as there is much to build on. It is also more than possible that if you have a strong taste for fantasy in which anything and everything can happen then The Waking Engine might fit more with you than it did for this reader.
As an aside, what a beautiful cover!