In this story we are introduced to Sunai, a man with a mysterious past, an uncertain future, and a fragmented mind. This is a world where Artificial Intelligence commanded and controlled cities of people, linking them together, guiding them, shaping them, and ruling them. Until they went mad, until they were corrupted and the great AI gods started killing their worshipers, their people. Now, what remains are fragments, walking corpses, giant ENGINES — mechas made of armor and steel with human Relics as their hearts. Ruined temples, where their cities once flourished, are now home to ghosts and grave robbers. This is a heist story (of a sort), with a group of people coming together to undo a wrong that should never have been done.
First, let me say that the world building in this book is very well done. This is a science fiction dystopia where giant robots and religious philosophy combine in an unusual and compelling world. It’s creative, it’s unique, and it felt as though the author’s sincerity and desire to share this world with me bled through the pages. The world felt alive … well, for a world shattered and destroyed. I wanted to know more about the cities, the temples, the strange mech robots which, with their limited sentience, patrolled the broken world. There is so much work done to make this world feel whole and realized.
The characters, however, felt empty and hollow, as everyone sounded the same. They all seemed to speak with the same voice, the same inflections, and the same manner. And it all felt flat and emotionless. Because the book is from Sunai’s point of view, he’s quick to explain things — what people are doing, what they’re feeling, what he’s feeling; there was so much telling. I felt like I heard all about the characters in the book without having ever seen or experienced any of it for myself. People don’t seem to answer questions, but instead we get a brief paragraph mentioning what’s being explained, without having the character actually explain it. Or there is a brief paragraph outlining what a character would have said, without having the character actually say it. Honestly, it felt at times as though I was seeing an outline of where a conversation might have been. And for me, that didn’t work. As much as I love world building, the lack of seeing what the characters were doing or saying really hurt my ability to connect to this book. It was more like listening to a radio play or watching a movie than reading a story.
The plot, too, feels sketched out in parts. While I appreciate that Sunai isn’t always aware of what’s going on and can be taken by surprise when other characters do things, it didn’t feel as fully fleshed out as I would have liked. Because, again, it felt like the kindling hadn’t yet caught fire. There was a spark, but never enough to actually set anything alight.
Then, there’s the writing style. It felt like the author was choosing to emphasize style and I didn’t care for it. Instead of feeling inhuman or clinical, it felt like heavy handed poetry as an alien intelligence told Sunai about how heavy Sunai’s limbs felt, while rhapsodizing about their union.
All in all, of the three things I look for to personally enjoy a book, only one really worked for me. While, towards the end, characters started to take more definition, it was a little too little, too late. That said, the world is creative and interesting. And as much as I’m on the fence with the plot — enjoying parts of if, while still feeling totally emotionally removed from it — and as much as I had trouble connecting with the characters as people, or their relationships with one another, I am actually looking forward to the sequel. I hope that, in the second book, I’m able to appreciate the characters as much as I love the world they live in.