The Redemption Engine
The Redemption Engine by James L. Sutter
Every now and then I’ll read a book by an author I’ve never tried before. A lot of times it can be disappointing. Good plots gone bad, repetitive storytelling, or disastrous endings. But sometimes those new authors can payoff. In the case of James L. Sutter and his book The Redemption Engine, the gamble was a jackpot. The book combines compelling characters with deeply imaginative environments and a very fun plot. If you’re looking for a good fantasy story, this one is worth your attention.
The book stars Salim Ghadafar, a servant of the Lady of Graves. The Gray Lady is the goddess of death, fate, prophecy and birth. However Salim is not typical priest. While he reluctantly uses the powers granted by the goddess, and also performs her bidding, he’s an atheist. Before he was pledged to the goddess, he was an ardent priest-hunter, a truly devoted servant to his godless homeland. Yet when fate intervened, he made a desperate deal, and ended up in the Gray Lady’s service. Despite those circumstances, and knowing that the gods are real, he refuses to promise his soul to anyone, thus clinging to his belief in atheism. It’s an interesting conflict for the character.
The main plot revolves around Salim’s hunt for a group of soul thieves. His investigation leads him to explore the diverse city of Kaer Maga. Built at the top of a cliff behind massive walls, it’s a place of refuge for outcasts. Salim encounters escaped slaves, necromancers, soothsayer trolls and even the occasional zombie slave. As he chases down clues, his adventure takes him to some very interesting places. Some of those journeys have a Lovecraftian touch to them while others are more like Dante’s Inferno.
For those looking for diversity, The Redemption Engine takes a few steps to satisfy those readers. One of the antagonists (and later protagonists) is another servant of the Lady of Graves. She is a pyschopomp who has an intimidating human form and a more terrifying spider form. Unlike Salim, she’s not human, she relies on magic, and she’s entirely devoted to her goddess. Unfortunately her story arc doesn’t kick in until later in the book, but it does play out very well.
Other female characters include a few minor players, but several of the primary antagonists are females. Adding to the diversity are people of color, including Salim, but further jumping into the mix is a warrior couple who plays a very central role in the story. The warrior couple are both males. Now I’ve seen authors do this kind of thing before and it can feel very forced or very much like an afterthought. In this case, though, it’s done in such a compelling manner that I have zero complaints. In fact the warrior couple turns out to be some of the best characters in the book.
One really surprising thing about Sutter’s writing is how well he handles everything. The dialog is good, the characters are rich and fascinating. He does a great job at describing the environments and writes some really good fight scenes. The pacing of the story builds into several climaxes, each hitting as the characters go to new environments. As Salim’s investigation continues, the stakes are raised and each climax gets a little bigger. The ending hits with lots of excitement and action. There’s a nice amount of resolution, nothing drags out, and the book finishes on a high note. Best of all, it’s not a slow starter. There’s action right in the beginning with plenty of hooks to keep you reading. Overall, it’s a great book.
When The Redemption Engine started out, I was drawn in pretty fast. Salim was a mysterious character, a sword fighter who dressed as a priest but who wasn’t a priest. A guy who could hold his own in combat but was deeply troubled by his past. I wanted to know more and I wanted to see where his character would go. Then, as the world was slowly revealed, I was hooked. I loved all the creative and inventive elements. The sights described in the story create a deeply immersive experience that fuels the imagination. Throughout the story, that bar is raised to even wilder and more diverse environments. As a Star Wars fan, I’m a sucker for strange worlds and stranger inhabitants. The Redemption Engine takes fantasy to a level that I love. There’s great characters, great landscapes, and it all comes together into a great adventure. I give it a five out of five metal bikinis and I’ll certainly be adding James L. Sutter to my list of favorite authors. If his other books are as good as this one, I’ll be buying them all.