REVIEW: The Faith Machine – Tone Milazzo

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Author: Tone Milazzo (website / twitter)

Publisher: Running Wild Press

Genre: Contemporary science fantasy

Welcome to the Strip, where operatives on the fringe command teams of ‘Cards’: Agents cursed with subtle, specialized, and sometimes sloppy psychic powers. Dr Ken Park, Korean-American psychologist and spy, dares to lead six of these Cards. Together, they tackle esoteric threats the Department of Homeland Security cannot.

Park takes his team to Africa to retrieve the Faith Machine. Built by the Soviets to turn prayers into suffering, the psychotronic device fell into the hands of a demented warlord. Tragically, the mission fails and the madman slaughters hundreds of innocents while the machine burns.

They return to the States in disgrace, and into an ambush by the mysterious and brutal Casemen. Cut off from command and each other, the scattered agents rush to their safe house in the west. While spy agencies from around the world want retribution for the catastrophe in Africa. Park’s team outplays enemies left and right, while uncovering the true threat. There’s another Faith Machine, one destined to bring hell on earth

I was invited to review this book by the author, who had read my review for The Girl Who Could Move Shit With Her Mind, and thought I would enjoy this too. The premise certainly sounded interesting. The idea that faith and the power of prayer could be used to generate energy is something that’s been explored in a few places, notably Pratchett’s Discworld, and Gaiman’s American Gods. I’m a sucker for a rag-tag team of misfits too, so I was happy to give this a try.

Unfortunately, this book and I didn’t quite mesh. I’ve talked in other reviews about how structure can really make a difference to the way I relate to a book – similarly to The Sisters GrimmI just found the set up of this book far too choppy to really settle into. It’s got 113 chapters, some of which are less than a page long. This probably makes it perfect for people who like to pick up and put down books after only reading a chapter or two at a time. My reading style doesn’t mesh with that, which is why I struggle with short stories, and I find books structured like this a little staccato and hard to read.

I also found myself not quite at home with the voice and pacing of it. In the same way I mentioned with The Priory of the Orange Tree, this was a book where I spent a lot of time considering how I might edit it differently. Certainly I think I would perhaps rejig things structurally, mix up how the characters are brought together, ask for more description in some areas, cut it in others. There are bits that Milazzo focuses on in a way I’m not entirely comfortable with – race, for instance, is referred to a lot, but not in ways that I found necessary or natural. He’s got a diverse cast, but the ways it was highlighted jarred with me, and that’s perhaps something I might have smoothed out if this had been my project.

It’s a fun book and an interesting premise. I love the idea of a secret agency which collects people with unusual psychic powers, but also that they’re so underfunded they can’t get decent digital security so they have to keep using microfiche like it’s the Cold War. The powers are fun too – a guy who gains talents based on those around him, although he doesn’t necessarily know who he’s pinching them from; a woman who stores up karma from non-stop bad luck, until she unleashes it all in a game-changing release of good luck when it’s mostly likely to help someone else; a teenager who can see the future, but only a few minutes ahead, so he’s excellent for connecting the dots when everyone’s confused but otherwise useless and just a bit irritating. I really liked Ken Park as the non-powered, mild-mannered psychiatrist in charge of the team, he provided a nice contrast to the wacky characters around him.

There were some great moments of humour too, but for me I think they got a little lost among some of the extraneous descriptions. For example, I understood that Ainia needed to keep moving, but I found the constant descriptions of things she did to keep her body in motion quite distracting, particularly when it moved from bouncing a lacrosse ball to walking on her hands around the car.

There were also moments where the humour didn’t land, such as when Gabby is chasing her ex-boyfriend with an axe, because he took naked photos of her while she was asleep, posing her with stolen motorcycle parts, and posted them online. Park asks why she’s more upset about the nude photos being online than the theft.

Which.

I think most women – if not all women – would be more upset about becoming online porn against their will (which is a crime in the UK at least) than their boyfriend nicking some motorcycle parts.

As I have always said on this blog, however, there is no book that will fit everyone. There are lots of bits I enjoyed, but unfortunately the structure and some of these quirks of narrative style pulled me out of the story. Other people might not notice them, other people may enjoy them. If you like big-scope stories about rag-tag teams, this might be the one for you. It sits somewhere between The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind and Gavin Smith’s Bastard Legion series for me in terms of tone and content. It goes quite dark, there’s some talk of sexual assault, and dealing with religions can always be a difficult line to walk.

I really appreciate Running Wild Press and Tone sending me a copy of the book, and I was particularly pleased to see the credits for the people involved in producing it. This is something which has started appearing in publishing – Dialogue Books have been doing it since they started, and Trapeze did it for the release of Queenie – and it is nice to acknowledge all the hands which go into building a book.

Briefly:

  • A rag-tag band of misfits who work for a government agency dedicated to dealing with psychic threats (whether they want to or not), high stakes, and a world tour all come together here.
  • I really liked the premise of referring to these extra natural talents as “cards” and using the terms from a deck of cards to organise them in power. I would have liked to see more of that explained perhaps earlier on – it reminded me a little of the chess rankings used in Daniel O’Malley’s Checquy Files.
  • If you’re looking for something with short chapters you can dip in and out of, some wry humour, but with a plot that doesn’t shy away from darker elements, you may enjoy this.

Rating: 3/5 – as I’ve said before, these ratings are an indication of my experience with the book and not the quality of the book itself. It wasn’t quite for me, even though there were bits that made me smile, but I hope that it finds the audience who will love it.

 

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