The Waking Engine – David Edison

About the Book

Welcome to the City Unspoken, where Gods and Mortals come to die.

Contrary to popular wisdom, death is not the end, nor is it a passage to some transcendent afterlife. Those who die merely awake as themselves on one of a million worlds, where they are fated to live until they die again, and wake up somewhere new. All are born only once, but die many times . . . until they come at last to the City Unspoken, where the gateway to True Death can be found.

Wayfarers and pilgrims are drawn to the City, which is home to murderous aristocrats, disguised gods and goddesses, a sadistic faerie princess, immortal prostitutes and queens, a captive angel, gangs of feral Death Boys and Charnel Girls . . . and one very confused New Yorker.

Late of Manhattan, Cooper finds himself in a City that is not what it once was. The gateway to True Death is failing, so that the City is becoming overrun by the Dying, who clot its byzantine streets and alleys . . . and a spreading madness threatens to engulf the entire metaverse.

400 pages (hardcover)
Published on February 11, 2014
Published by Tor
Author’s webpage 

This book was sent for me to review by the publisher.

I always enter reviews like this with a sort of terrified feeling. This is Edison’s first novel, and I’m going to admit with absolute honesty here, the entire reason I was excited about it (at first) was because the cover art just spoke to me on that one level that cover art rarely speaks to me on. It’s incredible. Then, I (a little late, I admit) read what the book was about, and I started to get even more exciting.

Then I got scared.

With a first novel, and a first novel that is this bold, unorthodox, and absolutely unique, there are a lot of places for first authors to really show how first-author-ish they are (if that makes any sense at all). A lot rides on the review for a first time author. How will they take it? Will what I say make an impact? I get kind of paranoid. I hate feeling like the person who poo-poos on someone’s lifetime achievement.

Thankfully, I don’t have to do that this time.

The Waking Engine is something else entirely, and by something else, I mean something totally different, but different in a good way. This is one of those books that is a delicious mix of fantasy, reality, speculation, philosophy, and science fiction. It’s a little bit of everything and a whole lot of its own animal. The City Unspoken is quite a place, neither here nor there, but somewhere all its own, both a gateway to a mystery and a delectable hodgepodge of cultures. Not just Earth cultures, but cultures from all sorts of places – places we couldn’t even dream of.

It would be easy for Edison to get mired in the details, and let the city bog down the flow of his story. Let me be honest for a moment, at times he does get a little mired in the details, but those details are astounding. Edison really spends time bringing this important city to life for the reader and he does it so vividly that you feel like you are there. Yes, at times the descriptions can slow down the flow, but he’s doing it for a good reason. He’s making the City Unspoken an important character in the novel. That might sound weird, a city being a character in a book, but in some books that is absolutely essential, as it is in The Waking Engine. No matter what else you may think of this novel, the City Unspoken will absolutely astound and amaze you.

That point nicely dovetails into my next  – the real amazing part of this book. It isn’t the story, or the characters, or even the city. While all of that is absolutely wonderful, the real beauty of The Waking Engine is Edison’s stunning ability to write. To put it simply: This guy can string some words together to create one hell of a beautiful work of art. It is nice, for a change, to read a book that you can appreciate not just for the story, but also simply because the author knows how to write beautifully.

“The day had corrupted the blue sky, and the promising morning had already miscarried into a sickly yellow noonday – the twin suns fused into a kind of angry mating, their orbs gone orange, streams of red-black plasma arcing between them as they grew steadily closer together. Another costume change for the sky above the City Unspoken.”

The plot, essentially, circles around the philosophical point that death isn’t really the end. Dropped into the center of that bit of knowledge is our protagonist, one very confused man by the name of Cooper. Cooper is a character that I enjoyed, but never quite cared too much about. He’s an everyman and anyman. There really isn’t anything terribly amazing about him other than the fact that he’s in this very odd place, for reasons unknown. He develops as the plot progresses, but I often felt that he was dwarfed by the things happening around him, or the city itself. Things spiral from the point when Cooper is found, but that’s really what you need to know until you read the book. Now, that seems simple, right? Well it really isn’t.

This is where my “roses and puppy farts” review ends. Sorry.

As I mentioned above, sometimes Edison can get bogged down in the details and descriptions, which I can enjoy, and his stunning prose really helps me enjoy those details and plot-bogging moments. The problem that readers may run into is that this book has an overly complex feel to it. There are so many layers of thought behind everything that is going on, from the world building, to the plot direction, the character developments – everything. This is a very philosophical novel, and while I tend to enjoy my novels with a bit more bite, some meat for me to gnaw on and thoughts to weigh me down a bit, it almost felt like there was too much of all of that crammed into this book. At times, the events and descriptions were so complex, I had a hard time puzzling out what exactly was going on and what I, as a reader, was supposed to take away from it.

In all reality, if that is my main complaint from a first novel, that’s pretty good, but the reason I want to add a caveat to that, is because it is a big complaint. That issue doesn’t just come and go occasionally throughout the novel. This is one of those books that keeps your thought muscle exercising the whole time you read it. I think readers will either love or hate that aspect of the book. You’ll either love it because this book is so far beneath the surface, and that is absolutely fascinating to you. Or you’ll hate it because the depth of it might overpower the plot and characterization to the point where you lose interest.

So, what are my final thoughts?

The Waking Engine is incredibly untraditional. It is a beautifully written book with a shocking amount of depth. While some readers might feel like the depth and philosophy behind it all can be a bit too much, readers who aren’t turned off by that are really in for a treat. Edison’s first novel is brave. He strays from the popular path, from genre tropes and common fantasies, and blazes his own trail. The Waking Engine makes you work, and that’s half the charm. The other half of the charm lies in Edison’s prose, and the City Unspoken, which is one of the most vibrant, alive, and thought provoking places I’ve read about recently. If this is the starting point for Edison’s career as an author then truly the stars are the limit.

Bravo, Edison. I can’t wait to see what you churn out next.


4/5 stars


10 Responses

  • I remember seeing this book mentioned as a book to look out for some months back, and I’ve had it in my “saved for later” cart on Amazon since then. I admit I liked the concept that the little synopsis had, and I liked the cover art, but I had the same worries about it being his first book so I couldn’t really know what I’d be getting.

    So I’m glad to hear you like it! You seem to like a lot of the same books I do, so my fears are alleviated somewhat by this review. 😀

    • I hope you give it a try and enjoy it. I think this book will be kind of polarizing, as I mentioned above. People will either love the depth, or think it is a bit too much. Regardless of which camp you fall into, Edison has some incredible skillz.

  • I like to joke that I was hooked as of the whole “cyborg faerie” idea, because holy crap, CYBORG FAERIE! Really, though, I fell for the prose pretty early on, and the entirety of Purity Kloo’s plotline could have kept me more than entertained enough to keep reading even if it wasn’t for Cooper’s sections. It’s a serious mind-twist of a book, and I really liked it!

    • Ha. I have to admit, I read this comment when I was at work this morning and my coworkers thought I was nuts because I started randomly laughing really hard. Anyway, I agree!

  • I’m glad to see another positive review of this. It is really is an amazing first novel and so unlike anything else I have read. I don’t always do well with books where the worlds are so strange as this, but I couldn’t help but enjoy it. I think partially because as you said, his ability to write is just astounding.

    • It’s hard not to like a world that is so vibrant. Edison really brings the City Unspoken to life, and I LOVED IT. I love when cities, locations, places, become just as important and “real” as the characters.

  • Yes so agreed about the writing! There were times when I didn’t really know where things were going to go, but I was quite happy coming along for the ride because it was just so beautiful to read! I also love how brave Waking Engine was. I’m not sure how it’ll be received, might even get banned some places, but as a long time genre fan, that is exactly the kind of book I’m looking for these days!

    • I agree with you. It’ll be interesting seeing how this book works in the market. There are a lot of “ifs” regarding this book. If someone doesn’t mind depth, convoluted mind-twisty plots, some of the philosophical ideas, etc. That’s probably part of why I enjoyed it so much. I love an author who isn’t afraid to push the limits. Pushing the limits in a first novel? Yeah, this guy is an author I plan to watch.

  • Juliana Rodrigues

    Hi, I also was very intrigued by this cover and I’m planning to read soon (I already have it in my Kindle). But was nice to see a good review about it before getting into it.

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