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Engines of the Broken World
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Engines of the Broken World

4.0 2
by Jason Vanhee

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Merciful Truth and her brother, Gospel, have just pulled their dead mother into the kitchen and stowed her under the table. It was a long illness, and they wanted to bury her—they did—but it's far too cold outside, and they know they won't be able to dig into the frozen ground. The Minister who lives with them, who preaches through his animal form,


Merciful Truth and her brother, Gospel, have just pulled their dead mother into the kitchen and stowed her under the table. It was a long illness, and they wanted to bury her—they did—but it's far too cold outside, and they know they won't be able to dig into the frozen ground. The Minister who lives with them, who preaches through his animal form, doesn't make them feel any better about what they've done. Merciful calms her guilty feelings but only until, from the other room, she hears a voice she thought she'd never hear again. It's her mother's voice, and it's singing a lullaby. . . .
Engines of the Broken World is a chilling young adult novel from Jason Vanhee.

Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Mark Flowers
Vanhees's curious new novel veers dramatically among several genres before finally settling in as a sort of morality play, but the theme of the story is an apocalyptic dystopia in which the world is slowly dying. Sister and brother Merciful and Gospel have grown up in a future (or possibly alternate) world in which a combination of war and religious revival have destroyed technology and returned humanity to an agrarian society. After their mother dies, they realize that they (along with two neighbors) may be the last humans in the world, as a strange circle of mist closes in on them and seemingly devours the rest of the world. At the same time, Merciful makes contact with a woman speaking through her mother's dead body who claims to be from a parallel universe and tries to convince Merciful to destroy the last piece of technology in their world—a creature called Minister, which sees to their spiritual needs—in a desperate attempt to save both worlds. Vanhee sets up this final decision as a battle between science and faith, but provides his characters with no particular reason for belief in either, making the choice an empty one. Meanwhile, the genre switching becomes dizzying—the early pages read as a ghost story, but this style makes little sense once the nature of the presence is made clear, and there are further forays into survival literature, dystopic science fiction, and religious allegory. Most frustrating for a reader trying to pigeonhole the novel, Vanhee manages to end on an absolutely perfect note, almost (but not entirely) making the project worthwhile. Reviewer: Mark Flowers
School Library Journal
Gr 6–8—Twelve-year-old Merciful Truth and her older brother, Gospel, have just lost their mother following a long illness. They are unable to bury her because of heavy snow and unseasonable cold. Despite the warnings of The Minister, their shape-shifting spiritual advisor, they place her under the kitchen table. Wracked with guilt, Merciful comes to terms with their decision until she hears her mother's voice from the other room. Her reanimated corpse, inhabited by an unknown entity, informs Merciful that she might be the only one who can stop a world-destroying fog if she can find the machine responsible. Unfortunately, The Minister has other plans. Atmospheric and unsettling, Vanhee's debut offers a fresh approach to apocalyptic fiction. Set primarily in the Truth family's cabin, the narrative revolves around the actions of Merciful and Gospel, and in this intimate setting, their choices feel heavy and their options limited. It's a testament to Vanhee's writing style that he can make something as immense as the end of the world feel so disturbingly claustrophobic. Merciful is the catalyst who sets the narrative in motion, and it is through her strength and courage that the audience sees a glimmer of hope despite the bleak circumstances. The book's ambiguous conclusion is both refreshing and frustrating. Spiritual but never didactic, the story will leave readers questioning their own truths and beliefs.—Audrey Sumser, Cuyahoga County Public Library, Mayfield, OH
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-09-25
Not even a million of God's animal-shaped Ministers can save people this time around. The end of the world is here, and 12-year-old Merciful Truth and her older brother, Gospel, are among the last left standing. In this vivid horror novel set in a cabin in the woods, Merciful and her wild brother, who is "halfway to the Devil," are not quite home alone. Their mother's corpse is decomposing under the kitchen table as there's too much snow outside to bury her, and the Minister, a shape-shifting, God-appointed "made thing," pads about the house murmuring its daily gospel. Worse still, Mama isn't staying dead. Is that milky-eyed corpse singing "Hush, little baby" in their late papa's rocking chair their once-crazy mama, or is it a "ghost angel" from a faraway world of cities and science? This is full-on horror, complete with putrid undead, a world-devouring fog and creepy ballerina music boxes. Merciful's frank, down-home, first-person voice is steady and true as she navigates not only the challenges of pioneer-style survival and the impending apocalypse, but also tricky relationships with God, the newly undead, the enigmatic Minister and her embittered brother. Faith and hopelessness swirl like snow in a winter storm in this scary but terrific debut novel with a fresh, engaging voice. (Fantasy/horror. 13 & up)
From the Publisher

“*Faith and hopelessness swirl like snow in a winter storm in this scary but terrific debut novel with a fresh, engaging voice.” —Kirkus, starred review

“In dense, lyrical language, the novel raises questions of religion, morality, and free will as it builds toward a dark and ambiguous ending.” —The Horn Book

Product Details

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
4.90(w) x 7.50(h) x 1.10(d)
980L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Engines of the Broken World

By Jason Vanhee

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2013 Jason Vanhee
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-4846-7


It snowed the day our mother died, snow so hard and so soft at the same time that we could neither bury her nor take her out to the barn. So we set her, my brother and me, under the table in the kitchen, and we left her there because we didn't know what else to do. There wasn't anyone else to ask, our father dead for years and the village nearly empty and no one to help out two kids left alone in the winter.

Except it wasn't winter, not really. It was October. Storm like that, with snow like that, we shouldn't have had till much later, till Christmastime, or even past that more like. But we didn't spend much time thinking about how the weather had gotten all strange. We just dealt with it.

The Minister wasn't happy, but then, it wasn't happy with much of anything these days. There wasn't much holy going on, and we didn't pray like we used to, or give it milk to lap up like in golden summertime. The cow had run dry before it died, and the goats were as skinny as fence posts and dried up just like the cow. We didn't have treats for the little thing the way we would've in happier times. But still it yowled and protested when we decided to move Mama away from her bed and put her in the kitchen, which was almost as cold as outdoors, because that wasn't the way.

"She that bred and birthed you both, and you set her in the cold like that," the Minister said. It was an old model, a worn-down thing that couldn't do much more than cavil and complain at us and hadn't done much more than that, to be truthful, since we were born. My brother just ignored the beast, like he always did, but he was halfway to the Devil, even our mama had said so, and there was nothing more to be done. For me, I felt bad when the little thing hissed its words at us, and didn't know what all to do about it. Ministers were the word of rightness, and it hurt to not do what it said, but my brother, he had the way of it when he made his suggestion, and I couldn't disagree with him.

"We got to move her, Merciful," he said, and I just looked up from crying, because it was a daughter's job to weep even if you didn't feel it at all.

"Move her where? It's cold as sin. We can't go out."

He allowed that, and nodded his head even, as if he felt we couldn't, which I didn't believe one bit. My brother would've mumbled half of a prayer and dragged Mama out himself, if he thought there was a point. With the Minister right there on the coverlet letting itself be seen, though, he knew that he had to do something a little more right than wrong, and that was let himself be led just a bit by his sister.

"Not outside, I guess you're right. But she'll go sour here."

I didn't say yes, but then, I didn't say no, and when he took her body under the arms and gestured me to her feet, I took them up and helped him. The Minister paced around our legs with its tail whipping back and forth and said it wasn't right at all. The kitchen was chill like it never should be, but we hadn't had a cooked meal in days, since Mama took sick, and most all our wood had gone to the hearth in her room, instead of for stew or bread or what have you. So we laid her out there, under the table, and the Minister padded around her and shook its head at us, and we left her in the dark.

We went back into the bedroom, which was as far from the kitchen as we could get and the warmest place besides. The big bed and our little kids' beds that slid out of a cupboard were all tidied up, and on the shelf the books that my mother had read to me when I was young were in just the right place, and so were all the clothes and everything else. Except for the bed, where the dent of her body was still warm and the pillow still showed where she had been. The Minister had come with us — always came with us now because there wasn't hardly anyone else for it to attend to — and settled into the room's one chair, the rocker that rested in the corner near the hearth. It stared at us with its yellow eyes. The Minister didn't say anything, but you could almost feel what it was thinking and tell that it didn't think the best of us, two ungrateful children. And I turned away from its stare, because I was ungrateful, and didn't regret it, and didn't want to do anything to make it better.

What Gospel felt I didn't know. He and I hadn't ever been close since I was still small enough to suck my thumb and make dolls from sticks. He'd been a wild thing even then, barely wanting to talk to us, barely heeding the Minister, barely sleeping inside the house save when, as now, the weather turned hard and brutal outside or there were things wilder than him around. But I remembered that, when I was very small, he used to talk to me sometimes and tell me things about trees or birds, or about the beasts that slunk by in the darkness and made a meal of anyone so uncautious as to be seen, which Gospel never was. We lost neighbors that way, their houses gaping empty without a body inside, but sometimes there'd be blood spilled on porches or a window broke right out and curtains torn. Gospel knew all the secrets of the beasts and knew how to keep from them. When I was young he tried to teach me, lessons taught in a tongue I couldn't quite grasp, until about the time Papa died he gave up in frustration and we never much talked after.

Now Gospel was sitting on his little truckle bed, the one his legs barely fit on any longer. His big feet hung over, with his shoulders leaning against my bed halfpulled out from the wall where he sat. His hair was dark and wild, filthy with grease and held back, as much as it was, with a tie of leather from a big cat, one of the things almost safe to hunt, though not to eat. His hands were scarred and dirty, the nails torn where he held them before his mouth, staring blindly out, maybe at the Minister, who stared right back, but maybe not, maybe at the fire instead. Gospel was almost fifteen, near three years older than me, a man or close enough, though there was no one left to say if he was or wasn't. He was, in fact, The Man, the only one we knew of, though there were still two other women, so I wasn't The anything. At his belt he had a big knife, with a ragged leather-wrapped hilt, and a gun that didn't have any bullets but that he wouldn't let away from himself for any dear thing at all. That gun had been Papa's, and I remembered the sound it made the last time it was ever fired, when Papa got himself killed by a stranger in a fight six years ago. Gospel's held it close ever since, for what earthly reason I could never imagine.

He noticed me scrutinizing him, and he shot me a look fierce as the cold wind outside, and then he turned away all at once because the Minister gave a little hiss. Gospel was my brother. He wasn't supposed to hate me, but I thought sometimes he did, and I think the Minister thought it too.

"You're each all the other has left," the Minister said, soft as snow falling against a paper window, barely in hearing above the crackle and pop of the burning wood.

"Don't think I don't know that," Gospel said with fire in his voice, almost settled but not quite yet, still a boy mixed with a man.

"There's knowing, and then there is knowing," the Minister replied, and curled its tail up and around to wiggle in the air, with that attitude that it got sometimes to make me want to pull out all its whiskers.

"I know it too well, Minister."

The Minister only hummed a considering hum and turned to look at me, where I was trying to barely see it out of the corner of my eye, and none too successful at being sneaky like that. "Merciful, do you know as well as your brother?"

"I know. I know he's all I got, and all I'll ever have, like as not, the way the world's going."

"The world goes as it's meant," the Minister said, like it always did if you asked it a question about such things. Furious it could make me, and was coming close now, though it could be kind as well, and it would be, I was sure, once we asked it nicely to do so. It was made to look after us, body and soul, and it would if it could, though what exactly a thing in the shape of a fat gray cat could do to protect our bodies I'd never been sure.

"So it was meant for Mama to die tonight?"

The Minister tilted its head to the side and stared at me. "I suppose you could say it must have been, or else she couldn't have done so."

"Don't even talk to it, Merciful. It didn't help with Mama all these years; it's not going to help us now."

"You don't know, Gospel. Maybe it knows things."

"Like what? What do you think it knows?"

"Secret things," I said, and the Minister hummed and repeated me.

"Secret things," it said in a sort of hissing whisper. "I know many secrets, yes."

"Tell me one thing you know that I don't!" Gospel demanded, springing to his feet. He stepped around the tail end of the big bed, toward the chair. I stood in the doorway still and didn't dare to move.

"I know the beginning and end of all things," the Minister said.

"So you knew our mother was going to die?"

"Everything dies, Gospel."

My brother shook his shaggy head and turned to me. "Soon as the snow stops, soon as the weather turns again, I'm gone, Merciful. I stayed for her," he said, gesturing past me to the darkness behind, "but she don't need me anymore. You can come or not, I don't mind either way, but if you come, I won't slow down for you."

"You can't leave me," I said.

"You'll be leaving yourself, if you want to stay. Anyway, the darned Minister here will help you through it all, just like it helped Mama." His voice was all sarcasm and bitterness, but then he shook his head again and sighed. "Don't matter yet, anyhow. The weather's going to be like this for a spell, I suppose."

"A long spell, indeed," the Minister said. Gospel gave it a hard look; but then, he had a supply of those laid up to give to the thing. It paid him no mind and then curled up on the chair and seemed to fall asleep — not that I believed it, and neither did Gospel, I'm sure.

We didn't say anything for a time, Gospel still standing at the foot of the bed, almost so close that I could've reached out and touched him, but so far away that I couldn't even connect. Then he growled a little and pushed past me into the dark, and a minute later light flared up as I turned slowly around, and there he was, plopped down on the bigger of the two chairs in the sitting room, with the empty doorway to the kitchen framing him from behind and an oil lamp on the table beside him. He didn't say anything, but he pointed with his first two right-hand fingers at the other chair, our mother's chair, which was just next to the table. I nodded and went to sit in the little pool of light.

It was silent in that room, with the two chairs in the middle of the chamber; a loom up against the back wall; a chest with spare clothes; and a box that held old wooden toys, most of them carved by Gospel for himself and then given to me when he got too old to bother with them. Not by Gospel; Mama gave them to me in the narrow space when she still cared a bit about the world after he had already quit. There was the big old bearskin rug in front of the chairs where I would sit and do my lessons or knit or whatever it was that I did in all those days that had gone by. Papa got that rug by shooting a bear back when there were still bullets for the rifle, grown rusty and pointless, that hung beside the door. There wasn't a sound except for a faint pop now and again, and the fainter hiss of snow on the roof, and once, perilous quiet, the sound of a cat yawning.

"So are you coming with me?"

"I don't know any woodcraft," I said.

"You'll learn. Or you won't, I guess. But there's nothing here anymore, Merce. Nothing to stay for, no one at all. There's other places, there's got to be," he said, sounding maybe a little desperate, maybe a little defiant. "Places where there are people still. I can find you one and leave you there, and then I can head out on my own and not fret."

"You wouldn't fret about me, Gospel," I said, with more venom than I thought I had in me.

He lowered his face so that the tangles of his dark hair fell over it. "Maybe I wouldn't. But maybe today I feel like I should, and I'm going to for a bit. How's that? Go through the motions for you, if you like that better. The point is, I'll take you away if you come as soon as we can go, and I'll get you someplace with more people, someplace you can make a life in, not this dead little pit of a village."

I leaned forward and brushed away his hair, so that he looked up through his thick eyelashes at me. "I don't know anyplace else, Gospel. How can I live anywhere but here?"

"How can you live here? There's nothing left. Two goats and four chickens, Widow Cally through the orchard that hardly produces, and Jenny Gone way up the other side of Stony Mountain. The Minister? That's it, Merciful, that's all you have here. The Widow's past seventy, and Jenny's half as crazy as Mama was, and that's still saying a lot. You got to come away with me, or you'll die."

"I'll die out there anyways. There's nobody left out there, either, Gospel. When was the last time a tinker came by? When I was six. I remember because Mama bought me two ribbons for my hair for my seventh birthday. Six years, Gospel, since we've seen anyone, unless you've seen somebody and never told."

He lifted his head and swallowed. There was dark fuzz on his upper lip, the mustache he had tried to grow in for months but it never yet came, and it made him look like what he was, a boy trying too hard to be The Man. "I see signs sometimes. Footprints, an old coat in good shape hanging on a stump like somebody just took it off a day before, and once I saw a snare. But no people, no. Nothing like that."

"So what do you think we can find, Gospel?"

"Something. Anything. There's got to be someone left. We can't be all there is."

And I knew then that for all he played the part of the outsider, he was the one who needed this place, who needed Mama and me, more than I had ever needed him.

"How far have you gone, Gospel?"

"Oh, Lord. Days down the river, and two days up it till it's just a trickle in the rocks, and over Windblown Ridge, and down past the Hollows. I've gone everyplace I could think to go, Merciful, and I've seen places where people were once, empty houses and broken roads and graves dug deep back in the forest where nothing could disturb them. Never a soul, though. But they got to be out there, right?" He smiled, a little hopefully, at me, his sister who he hated maybe but needed for certain, and I didn't have it in me to hate him right then, so I reached out and took hold of his hand.

"I bet the Widow Cally has a map up at her place, and we can look and see where you've been, and see where you could go to maybe find somebody. And if you did, we could all go, the four of us, and we could live with them." Or they could come live with us, but I didn't say that, even though I didn't ever want to go from home.

"Do you think she does? I never had the courage to ask."

"Well, you're the head of the house now, Gospel. Neighbor to neighbor, you can ask her anything."

He nodded slightly. "Yeah, I suppose I can, can't I? I suppose I can walk right on up there and ask if she's got a map, and by the way, our mother's dead."

It got real quiet again after he said that, both of us thinking of the thin, sad woman who was growing cold in the kitchen, and all the snow falling so we couldn't bury her, and how terrible it was to be orphans in the end of the world.


The dark was well settled outside, and the night far along, when I finally thought to get to sleep. There were things that needed doing, and Gospel, for Heaven's sake, wasn't going to do them, nor the Minister obviously, so it was just me.

I had to look through Mama's things to see what was of value and what of use and what of sentiment, and keep them and then dispose of the rest. A few things might suit for the Widow, or for Jenny Gone on her mountain, and those I set aside. And then there were things that would never do for anyone, old clothes that I had never really seen that were too big for me and probably always would be: for Mama was tall, and I didn't seem likely to sprout like a vine. Them I had to start to take apart, and set in the chests by the loom, for scraps and for material. And since I was doing that, and since he was here, I set to mending Gospel's cloak, which was rather tattered, and his jacket, which was worn out at the elbows, and his spare pants, which had raggedy hems and patches of furry skin sewn over the knees. He sat and watched at first, my stitches more clever than his ever were (though he thought himself skilled with a needle), and then after a time he left me in Mama's chair in the sitting room and went into the bedroom, where the light was grown dim because the fire was almost gone, and I supposed he went to bed.


Excerpted from Engines of the Broken World by Jason Vanhee. Copyright © 2013 Jason Vanhee. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Jason Vanhee lives in Seattle, Washington. Engines of the Broken World is his first novel.

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Engines of the Broken World 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
eternalised More than 1 year ago
Engines of the Broken World is definitely chilling. It starts out with Merciful Truth and her brother Gospel, who’ve just stowed their dead mother under the table. It’s not that they don’t love her, it’s simply too cold outside to bury her. They live too far away from civilization to ask anyone about it – there’s only the widow and Jenna living over the hill, and they can’t exactly go out in this cold to ask them either. Besides, mother isn’t the only thing dying. Everything is dying all around them. The only one left to guide them is The Minister, a talking squirrel who preaches the word of God. But when the world is about to die, with an unforgiving fog that sweeps up everything in its path, climbing the steep mountains toward their home, the word of God is only a slight comfort. When mother’s corpse starts running about, Merciful thinks she’s lost it. But when the corpse begins to see a lullaby in her mother’s voice, fear and curiosity mix. Is her mother still alive, or has something else taken up her mother’s body? Boy, was this book a different experience. I could never expect what was going to happen next. Every page was an adventure, every plot twist unexpected. The prose is very strong and powerful, and the main character’s uneducated dialect immediately pulled me into the somber atmosphere of the story. Some sentences are short, almost like a knife cutting through. There’s this hurried, disillusioned feel about the novel. There’s a feeling of dread from page one, but the dread only continues to grow as the book moves on. There’s no reprise, no moment to take a breath, no time to put the book away. The narrative is relentless, the story won’t stop, the end is inevitable. This is no zombie apocalypse you can fight, no virus you can find a cure against, no aliens attacking from outer space. This is God taking vengeance upon the greedy, the sinners, humanity itself. It’s the last hours of humanity, and it’s as dark and bleak as it can get, and by the end, you’re almost going out of your mind as much as the main characters are. The main characters, Merciful and her brother Gospel, are polar opposites in most aspects, but they do love each other. To see their bond weaken, and to see it grow, were intriguings part of the novel. To see their choices reflect not only upon themselves, but also upon others, was really great. In the end, the book left me with a claustrophobic feeling. I could feel the characters’ pain and desperation. As far as I’m concerned, this is one of those masterpieces of books, the ones your library can’t do without. It’s disturbing, weird, creepy, emotional, dark, and utterly fascinating. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I absolutely loved it.
majibookshelf More than 1 year ago
Merciful Truth has just lost her mother to a awful illness. Its winter, and its the harshest winter Merciful and her brother Gospel have seen. The ground has frozen over, so they decided to put their mother under the kitchen table. They don't really have to much of a choice, and the Minister, who preaches and keeps the siblings company, doesn't try to make them feel any better about it. Merciful tries to ignore her guilt, until she sees her mother rocking back and forth in a rocking chair, singing a lullaby......which doesn't make sense.......because her mother......is dead. With a strange fog rolling over the land, destroying everything in its path, Merciful has to find the cause of all the strange things going on.I've never really felt impending doom until I read this book, and let me tell you, it's not a very pleasant feeling. I felt like the characters could have been described a bit more, because then I might have felt more connected to the characters. The parts of the story that were supposed to be scary were pretty good actually. I can't stomach scary stuff. Take it from a girl who slept with the lights on after reading the book Coraline, this book is the perfect kind of scary (for me at least). If you prefer scarier reads, this book will appear pretty weak, which is unfortunate, because I liked it a lot.  Nothing in this book bothered me, as the story was interesting and the plot was good. Something that might have annoyed a lot of people is the quick introduction of new characters. Throughout the story, new people who weren't very well described appeared. It might annoy some people, but I thought it was ok. The flow in Engines of the Broken World is good, a bit slow for my taste, but in what parallel universe do horror stories end quickly? I unfortunately don't think I'll read any more horror stories from this author, but I might read one of his other genres. Recommended for teens 11-14 (or a easily scared person looking for a mild thrill).