My novel Engn – and its sequel Engn II – The Clockwork War – are perhaps the hardest of my books to define. I don’t see this as a problem in any way, but I accept this may have made the books harder to sell because they don’t fit into any obvious genre or category. When pressed, I usually resort to one of the following:
- YA Fantasy
- Secondary World Sci/Fi
- erm, Magic Realism?
None of them are very satisfactory. Did I mention I’m not a huge fan of genre labels? They’re a convenience, obviously – as a reader, they’re a quick way to identify books that one might want to read. I think they can also be a straightjacket, too. A box. Boxes are useful, but they’re also restricting. Sometimes, it’s good to think outside of the box. Or to have several boxes at once.
Engn itself has had an interesting history. It was published by two separate publishers (one after the other, not at the same time), both of whom folded a short time later. I’m pretty sure Engn wasn’t the reason. Here are the covers used by those two publishers (December House and Curiosity Quills Press), along with the cover I now use to indie-publish the book:
What is Engn about? Here’s the blurb:
Lost in the great machine…
Finn’s childhood in the valley is idyllic, but across the plains lies a threat. Engn is an ever-growing, steam-powered fortress that needs a never-ending supply of workers. Generation after generation have been taken away, escorted into its depths by the mysterious and terrifying ironclads, never to return.
The Masters of Engn first take Finn’s sister, then his best friend, Connor. Finn thinks he, at least, is safe – until the day the ironclads come to haul him away, too. Yet all is not lost. In the peace of the valley Finn and Connor made a pact: a promise to join the mythical wreckers and end Engn’s tyranny.
But now on his own, lost and broken in the vastness of Engn, Finn begins to have doubts. Is Connor really working to destroy Engn?
Or has he become part of the machine?
My intent, as I wrote the book, was to create a thrilling and inventive adventure novel – on the surface at least. Much of the action takes place inside this vast and incomprehensible machine/city. I made no attempt to explain what the machine does or why it’s there because, at a deeper level (it’s there if you want it), the book is also about philosophical and intellectual frameworks that are so all-encompassing we stop noticing them. That framework can be anything: political, religious, moral – basically any ideology that we accept as being how things are because we’re so used to them. Countries, for example: they don’t exist in the real world; they’re only in our heads, a sort of shared story. The machinery of Engn is like this: it’s vast and it’s there, and everyone (mostly) accepts it.
The book had some nice reviews, such as “Intriguing and engrossing. The machine city is a place of wonder and horror” and “I can honestly say that it was one of my favourite novels to read this past year. I found myself really engrossed in the story. I just could not put it down.”
I liked this five star review too: “Echoing the social schisms of the Industrial Revolution without sacrificing pace or visceral threat, Kewin forges a steampunk thriller that connects with both the mind and the heart … Overall, I enjoyed this book greatly. I recommend it to readers seeking steampunk that focuses on plausible technology and society in addition to character.” That nailed it, I think. The “a steampunk Gormenghast” quote, by the way, came from another very nice review. I was delighted with this line; I thought it caught the tone perfectly.
You can find out more about Engn here.
When I came to write the sequel, however, I thought it was time to provide some explanation of what Engn (the machine) is for. I liked that the first book left this vague but I also wanted to satisfy readers who demand answers. So that is all explained in Engn II – The Clockwork War.
The wheels of the great machine turn again…
Three years after the destruction of Engn, Finn is awoken by a shattering earthquake. As the people of the valley flee the ruins, rumours circulate that the machinery of Engn is working once more. Finn is haunted by the thought that Connor desperately needed him to do something. Uncovering buried secrets, Finn sees he has to return to the wreckage of Engn to find the answers to his questions.
To him, the events of the Clockwork War are history, but he learns that others are still fighting the ancient battle. For them, the machinery of Engn and its mysterious purpose are at the heart of everything.
Diane refuses to come with him, thinking he needs to put the past behind him. But then Engn’s line-of-sight signals start to broadcast again…
Each of the two books is self-contained, with a proper conclusion, although the second definitely follows on from the first. I do also have a plan to conclude the sequence with a third volume, a book tentatively called Engn III – The Steam-powered Man. We’ll see. I love these two books, but I do think that the difficulty in categorizing them perhaps makes it less likely that people will pick them up. On the other hand, they seem to me like the sorts of books that could become cult classics, and if the clamour for the third volume becomes deafening, I’ll have to comply…