Would you do something awful to prevent something even worse? How about sacrifice your own humanity for the greater good? The Infernal Machine by C.W. Snyder explores the concept of right and wrong, as well as the heavy burdens of one’s past during a race to save humankind.
For those seeking a steampunk meets supernatural guilt trip, The Infernal Machine promises plenty of heavy psychoanalysis and philosophical debates on top of the action and adventure as Arthur White, Mr. Black, and later the mysterious Ava work against a cult out to steal Lucifer’s long-lost heart. After disrupting Arthur’s quiet life as a groundskeeper, Mr. Black “gifts” him with an immortal clockwork heart so that the younger man can take on the grittier tasks that the warlock himself can’t. Years pass, during which Arthur’s guilt and misgivings grow, but when a mutual friend dies and the pair discovers the existence of Lucifer’s cast-off organ, a global scavenger hunt to recover it and keep death’s door shut ensues.
While this book does include a lot of flashbacks and dream sequences, Snyder doesn’t fall into the common trap of losing readers with overly complicated twists of reality or overlapping streams of consciousness. Each transition is clearly defined so it’s easy to follow what is happening in the present of the novel, as opposed to what has led the main characters to that point. The main warning I would give to the casual reader is that while this is a fantastical work or fiction, this isn’t light material. Many of Arthur’s struggles center around his soul-crushing guilt, the weight of all he’s done for Mr. Black, as well as the loneliness that comes with having the sort of abilities and physical enhancements that his clockwork heart affords. His saving grace, it seems, will be Ava, but even she comes with her own complications and secrets.
The Infernal Machine is a rich, complex amalgamation of plot, subplot, and real world concerns on top of a bigger picture that encompasses one of the ultimate what-ifs. For serious readers who want to explore the repercussions of cutting human feeling out of reason, or those interested in end-of-world scenarios embedded in the supernatural realm, this book is a must.