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The Engine's Child    by Holly Phillips order for
Engine's Child
by Holly Phillips
Order:  USA  Can
Del Rey, 2008 (2008)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Moth is a tough, independent, and highly intelligent child of the Tidal slums, who's been sponsored to join the temple scolar-priests as an acolyte by the powerful Lady Vashmarna. It's an unusual world, settled from elsewhere on an island surrounded by water. Though sailing ships have been sent to search for more land, none has been discovered within the range of their voyages and the island is bursting at the seams.

It's run by the shaudah, his power held in check by two others - Lady Vashmarna who runs the engineering demesne and is in favor of increased technical advances, and conservative Lord Ghar who is both a friend and her greatest rival. Below the surface are two competing secret organizations. The Society of Doors seeks to (magically) open a way to return to the planet from which these people fled, not knowing whether to expect a heaven or a hell there. And Moth, who has her own secrets, even from her sponsor, is in touch with 'the spirit of the world'. She invokes the shadow gods in the Tidal and secretly builds an engine to empower her people to escape their desperate lives and settle elsewhere.

This is a story, obscure at times, centered on a tangle of secrets. Moth has a forbidden lover, engineer Aramis, who secretly belongs to the Society of Doors and knows nothing of her activities or that she is pregnant with his child. Vashmarna keeps a big secret from her protégée. Lord Ghar and his son keep to themselves the fact that they are close to the realization of their dream of a Return. As conflict and rebellion grow, the shadow gods stir, disaster strikes repeatedly, a living ship is formed, all these secrets are revealed, and choices must be made. The Engine's Child, an intriguing read for those who can cope with a complex and challenging fantasy, ends on a cliffhanger that demands a sequel.

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