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The Engine's Child by Holly Phillips
Cover Artist: David Ho
Review by Harriet Klausner
Del Rey Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345499653
Date: 25 November 2008 List Price $15.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

The ocean that surrounds them is endless while their little island is a tiny oasis; land is at a premium on this mostly watery orb. However everyone knows the people's history in which ancestors were fortunate to find this pin of land amidst the water as they had to flee the catastrophe that destroyed their technological magical homeland. Over time each new generation living in increasingly over crowded conditions dream of a return to the perfect world their ancestors fled. Several myths and religions have developed about returning to the original utopia as the island can no longer sustain the populace causing food and water shortages. Factions are divided as to the remedy and civil war seems imminent especially between the two major extremist groups with opposing goals; one wants to return to the perfect homeworld and the other wants to siphon the mystical energy of this world.

In that backdrop, Moth is a religious neophyte preparing to say her priesthood vows. However, she hides from her mentors that she has sinned when she found mortal love and that she and her secret lover meet and make love. She commits her second major transgression when she becomes pregnant and knows she must face the consequences soon.

Moth also belongs to a secret sect building two magical-mechanical gizmos to save her people. First they are developing a device that will convert the planet's mystical energy into a usable form; second they are building vessels powered by this energy to sail the ocean seeking more land. At the same time her group works on their plan, their opponents construct a vessel to return to the ancestors' home.

This is an interesting merging of science fiction with fantasy elements that never decides if it is an allegory and a thriller. The planet is vividly described so that readers understand how the Malthusian Catastrophe Theory applies. Additionally conditions on the island lead to a pointed anti-Rand statement on the gap between the wealthy and the starving masses; and a plea for religious tolerance instead of the dangerous divide and intolerance.

Moth the narrator is not a likable individual as she is an immature liar, who claims one thing while telling the story, but the audience later learns she provided false testimony. Using the defense of unawareness of the facts on the ground while blaming a few rotten apples is her normal response; but constantly she is proven to be a false storyteller when the reader later learns the contradictory truths.

Overall this is a well written alien world thriller as the mythos that has developed over time has made the former planet into a Garden of Eden in spite of the ancestors having fled that orb. The ancestors also have taken on mythical proportions similar to the Founding Fathers. Although difficult to read because of Moth's mendacity - it can become confusing - Holly Phillips also shows her poetic roots in what is a fine by and large intriguing tale that makes a statement on morality.

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