The Machinery by Gerrard Cowan

Posted On 5 December 2015

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26127251I’ve been thinking about The Machinery for a couple of days and struggling to come up with a coherent review.  Put bluntly, I’m not sure that I totally understand (yet) what exactly is going on, I certainly came away from this first novel with plenty of questions and I’ve explored a few ideas but overall I think this is a very clever novel even if it feels a little psychedelic in parts!

Okay, firstly, I have no idea of the time or place that the novel is set.  We have a strange world where for the past 10,000 years the people have been governed by the choices of ‘The Machine’.  The Machine chooses Strategists who govern the overland.  These people live a privileged life once chosen but they’re chosen at random from the general populace – they might be hawking goods from a market stall one moment and elevated to a key political role the next.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the machine’s choices and no discrimination in terms of age, sex, etc.  Alongside these we have Tacticians and also Watchers.  Would it be trite to say ‘they watch’ – well, they do.  They have masks that they wear and they seek out the Doubters!  The Doubters are the ones who believe in the prophecy.  A strange prophecy that after 10,000 years the machine will choose ‘one’ who will bring ruin.  And, of course, at the start of the story the current Strategist dies under strange conditions – which means The Machine will now choose a new person to take the role!.

So, the scene is set and the political machinations are running amok with backstabbing and whisperings.  It seems that some people are trying to influence the selection and even those who profess not to believe the prophecy seem to be going to great lengths to be the final chosen one, so clearly they believe in at least one part of the prophecy!

On top of the above we have the Underland.  This is where the Operator chiefly resides although he does make the occasional appearance to the overland to whisper secrets or poison into the tacticians’ ears.  The Operator is something of a creepy character with his swirling cloak.

The main characters of the story are Katrina, whose brother was taken by the Operator when she was a young girl.  Brightling, a powerful tactician who seems to be the Operator’s key tactician, General Brandione who has fought in the many wars to secure the plateau and ensure they all fall under the rule of the machine, Aranfal, a watcher, much feared and, of course, the Operator.

I will say this is a difficult book to review simply because it’s difficult to say too much without giving away spoilers and that, added to the fact that I’m still unclear about everything that actually has taken place, gives me a certain reticence to say too much.

Going into this story I was under the impression that this was sci fi but I don’t think that’s really the case, it almost has a dystopian world feel in a way and I would be more likely to describe it as high fantasy.  I think I was misleading myself a little due to the name and because I had preconceived ideas about The Machinery which in fact turned out to be totally wrong.  Having completed this I think The Machine is more of a concept and less of an actual ‘thing’.  More a way of keeping control if you like rather than being a huge chunk of metal with cogs and wheels.  I’m trying to think of a comparison – a bit like you have God and then you have the Bible – to me, The Operator and the Machine feel a little like that although let me be clear – I’m just using that as a way to make a point and not saying that is the case here!  That being said, I’m not sure if the Operator and a number of similar characters are actually supposed to be Gods living in this world and meddling – like I said above, I’m not sure about a number of things!  Is the Underland a version of hell, it’s certainly a little bit twisted and surreal?  I really don’t know and that is the simple truth and I feel like I’m assigning ideas to the author which are just my own strange interpretation.  That is how this book makes you feel!

The writing – well, this isn’t one of those books that you would describe as whimsical or lyrical but don’t let that put you off.  This is, quite frankly, a very intriguing read and quite compelling.  In spite of the fact that I sometimes felt a little in the dark I never felt the urge to stop reading.

So, yes, this ended with perhaps more questions than it began, I don’t really have a handle on what’s absolutely going on, although I hope I have the basics, but it’s certainly a series that I will continue.  Thought provoking, unusual and unique, it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger that makes you really want the next book.  Bring on the strange.

I received a copy of this courtesy of the author through Netgalley for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.