The God Engines: As good, if not better, than advertised

fantasy book reviews John Scalzi The God Enginesfantasy book reviews John Scalzi The God EnginesThe God Engines by John Scalzi

John Scalzi Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever 1998 – 2008. AUTHOR INFORMATION: John Scalzi’s debut novel, Old Man’s War, was a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Novel. His other science fiction novels include Agent to the Stars, The Android’s Dream, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, and Zoe’s Tale. He has also written several non-fiction books, The Sagan Diary novella, various short fiction, and edited the anthology METAtropolis. In 2006, John Scalzi won the John W. Campbell Award for Best Writer, and in 2009 won the Hugo Award for Best Related Book for Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever 1998 – 2008.

CLASSIFICATION: Despite mostly taking place on the spaceship Righteous, The God Engines is not really science fiction. Instead, The God Engines is a tale of dark fantasy with parts of the novella falling into horror territory. Think Steven Erikson meets Tim Lebbon meets Clive Barker

FORMAT/INFO: The God Engines is 136 pages long divided over eleven chapters. Includes interior illustrations provided by Vincent Chong. Narration is in the third-person, exclusively via Captain Ean Tephe. The God Engines is self-contained. The God Engines is scheduled for publication in December 2009 via Subterranean Press and will be available in two editions: 1) A fully cloth-bound hardcover and a 2) Signed/Numbered fully leather-bound edition limited to 400 copies. Cover art provided by Vincent Chong.

ANALYSIS: John Scalzi is another author I’ve never read before, even though I own several of his novels. It’s an oversight I’ve been meaning to correct for some time now, but just never got around to doing. However, that all changed as soon as I heard about John Scalzi’s novella, The God Engines. Billed as the writer’s take on fantasy that “takes your expectations of what fantasy is and does, and sends them tumbling,The God Engines instantly intrigued me and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Much to my pleasure, The God Engines is every bit as good, if not better, than advertised.

In The God Engines, John Scalzi introduces readers to a dark and chilling world where gods not only exist, but can also be tortured, enslaved, or even killed. A world where science has been replaced by faith, where Defiled gods are used as ‘engines’ to power spaceships, where followers may be blessed with Talents — “a thing gods give followers to channel their grace, so the followers may use that grace to their own ends” — and where faith is a tangible power. A world of rooks, Bishop’s Men, and commentaries. A world that is highly imaginative, mostly original (parts of the novella reminded me of James Clemens’ Godslayer Chronicles), immersive despite having only 136 pages to bring the concept to life, and utterly captivating.

In this grim, yet fascinating world, readers will meet a small and well-drawn cast of characters — Captain Ean Tephe of the ship Righteous, Priest Andso, Commander Neal Forn, rook Shalle, the Defiled of the Righteous — who play a pivotal role in the events recorded in The God Engines. Events that are straightforward for the most part, but culminate in an explosive and mind-blowing finish full of dark twists and shocking revelations…

Negatively, I have just one complaint with The God Engines… it’s too short. Most of the novellas I’ve read before were set in established universes that I was already familiar with (Steven Erikson, Alan Campbell, Tim Lebbon, etc), and therefore worked extremely well as complimentary pieces or introductions to the author. As far as I know, The God Engines is not part of an already established universe, and is somewhat of a departure from the author’s other work, so it doesn’t really fall in either category. Instead, The God Engines is an epic-scale idea condensed into novella form. Even though the plot, setting and characters are handled skillfully in the short time allotted, it just seemed like parts of the novella felt rushed or skimmed over, and I believe The God Engines would have worked even better as a full-length novel.

That said, the novella as it is leaves an indelible impression on the reader. It is a hauntingly powerful and provocative tale that will have John Scalzi fans, fantasy lovers, and newcomers alike talking about The God Engines.

The God Engines — (2009) Publisher: Captain Ean Tephe is a man of faith, whose allegiance to his lord and to his ship is uncontested. The Bishopry Militant knows this — and so, when it needs a ship and crew to undertake a secret, sacred mission to a hidden land, Tephe is the captain to whom the task is given. Tephe knows from that the start that his mission will be a test of his skill as a leader of men and as a devout follower of his god. It’s what he doesn’t know that matters: to what ends his faith and his ship will ultimately be put — and that the tests he will face will come not onlyfrom his god and the Bishopry Militant, but from another, more malevolent source entirely… Author John Scalzi has ascended to the top ranks of modern science fiction with the best-selling, Hugo-nominated novels Old Man’s War and Zoe’s Tale. Now he tries his hand at fantasy, with a dark and different novella that takes your expectations of what fantasy is and does, and sends them tumbling. Say your prayers… and behold The God Engines.

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ROBERT THOMPSON (on FanLit's staff July 2009 — October 2011) is the creator and former editor of Fantasy Book Critic, a website dedicated to the promotion of speculative fiction. Before FBC, he worked in the music industry editing Kings of A&R and as an A&R scout for Warner Bros. Besides reading and music, Robert also loves video games, football, and art. He lives in the state of Washington with his wife Annie and their children Zane and Kayla. Robert retired from FanLit in October 2011 after more than 2 years of service. He doesn't do much reviewing anymore, but he still does a little work for us behind the scenes.

View all posts by Robert Thompson (RETIRED)


  1. Sometimes it is great to read shorter books. I spend a lot of time in length detailed worlds that I like a short book once in a while.

    Do you know if this book is going to be a series or is this the only book in this world? Didn’t know if you had heard anything.

    Thanks for the review.

  2. Thanks Melissa!

    I agree that it’s sometimes better to read shorter books, but The God Engines is one of those instances where I wish it had been longer and more detailed…

    As far as a series set in the same world? I have no idea, but it’s a question I would love answered :)

  3. Not a big fan of Scalzi, but this book sounds really interesting.

  4. Hi Robert. You have my curiousity now. I have added this book to my read list. I am going to have to get this one. I am also going to try to look around on this book as well. With all this google and computer stuff you would think there would be something somewhere on thoughts of this… right? Hopefully its not fake details. Hopefully, we can find something out.

  5. Hey Robert! I found John Scalzi’s blog – Whatever. –

    I left a question there wondering if this was part of a series or a stand alone. His response was “It’s a stand-alone novella at this point.” So it seems as there maybe no others with this. From what you say it sounds as he may have left it open to do so if he would like?

  6. I think you might be surprised by The God Engines Stefan :)

    Melissa, thanks for getting that question answered! It’s a shame that it’s only a standalone story at this point, but hopefully Mr. Scalzi will revisit the world sometime in the future…

  7. It was no problem at all. I like that I could track down the answer. It amazes me at times that I can find things in this vast world of internet. I usually don’t have much luck with finding what I am looking for with so much details out there.

    Glad I could help!

  8. Yeah, it’s definitely amazing what you can find on the Internet these days. Thanks again!

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