**I received an ARC from a festival (thank you, Penguin Teen!). These are my honest opinions, and in no way was I compensated for this review.**
Book: Goddess in the Machine (Goddess in the Machine #1) by Lora Beth Johnson
Release Date: June 30, 2020
My Rating: 4.5 stars
Rep: fat biracial (Southeast Asian-Chinese, white) protagonist
Summary: When Andra wakes up, she’s drowning.
Not only that, but she’s in a hot, dirty cave, it’s the year 3102, and everyone keeps calling her Goddess. When Andra went into a cryonic sleep for a trip across the galaxy, she expected to wake up in a hundred years, not a thousand. Worst of all, the rest of the colonists–including her family and friends–are dead. They died centuries ago, and for some reason, their descendants think Andra’s a deity. She knows she’s nothing special, but she’ll play along if it means she can figure out why she was left in stasis and how to get back to Earth.
Zhade, the exiled bastard prince of Eerensed, has other plans. Four years ago, the sleeping Goddess’s glass coffin disappeared from the palace, and Zhade devoted himself to finding it. Now he’s hoping the Goddess will be the key to taking his rightful place on the throne–if he can get her to play her part, that is. Because if his people realize she doesn’t actually have the power to save their dying planet, they’ll kill her.
With a vicious monarch on the throne and a city tearing apart at the seams, Zhade and Andra might never be able to unlock the mystery of her fate, let alone find a way to unseat the king, especially since Zhade hasn’t exactly been forthcoming with Andra. And a thousand years from home, is there any way of knowing that Earth is better than the planet she’s woken to?
There’s always a balance to things. Where there’s worship, there’s dissent. Everyone’s god is a devil to others.
Honestly, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this book, especially because I don’t really read science fiction. I had heard vaguely good things about it on Twitter, so I decided try it when I saw this at the book festival I went to. And I am so glad I took my chances because this was absolutely stunning. Goddess in the Machine delves into a world where people worship technology but don’t understand what it is, so they consider it divine.
The first half is a slow build-up that introduces us to the world Andromeda (Andra) wakes up in. She was in stasis to travel to Holymyth, a settlement on another planet, with her family; except she’s woken up, not in a century as planned, but a whole millennium later. The person who wakes her up is Zhade, a bastard prince who knows Andra is his ticket back to the city, Eerensed. The people of this world think Andra is a goddess since she was in stasis. They don’t understand how the technology works, so they consider her to be holy. She has to piece together how her world has involved into this chaotic one, both linguistically and technologically.
“Goddess,” he said.
Then, “How do you like your worshippers?”
The linguistics were really interesting; Johnson examines how a language can evolve over centuries. Andra’s way of speaking is already a touch different than ours, but in a way that we often see in books set in the future. However, the way the Eerensedians talk is comprehensible but extremely different from the way Andra speaks. She has to learn their slang and their accent, a dialect that they call High Goddess. Zhade is also a narrator, and, while it’s a bit difficult to read his chapters at first because of the different dialect, you quickly find yourself adapting to it and easily switching in and out of his and Andra’s manner of speaking, much like Andra herself gradually does. The ease in which this happens was a mark of how good the writing in this book is; I didn’t even notice when I grew comfortable reading both of their chapters.
The technology was really what was so enticing about this book. Andra is from the twenty-second century, where they are entirely reliant on technology, whereas the world she wakes up in still has the same technology but they no longer recognize it for what it is. Instead, they call it magic, ‘bots angels (because they’re “immortal”), and the three people people who were in stasis but woke up like Andra? Goddesses. It’s utterly fascinating to see how society has adapted their understanding of something that’s so integral to daily life. They take what they don’t understand and consider it holy, turning technology into a religion.
Right, so the first half was a bit slow but THE SECOND HALF OH MY GOD! It connected all the little details hinted at in the first half, but in ways you don’t expect. I mean, I saw a couple of things coming, but there were so many plot points thrown at you. I couldn’t put the book down, and it’s been months and I’m still processing honestly.
I loved the differences between Andra’s and Zhade’s chapters. Dual perspective can be tricky because the narratives can sound the same, but Johnson very elegantly avoided this. I already mentioned the linguistic differences between them, but also their characterizations and how they perceive events are just so separate. They’ll go over the same events but you learn new details from each because their perceptions are so different, so it wasn’t at all repetitive. This is also in part because the way they understand the world around them differs. Also, even though we’re in their heads, they’re still keeping secrets from us, and I’m still thinking about that one reveal at the end…
I don’t believe in the Goddess. I believe in Andra.
They do have a bit of a romance, one that I liked. It’s not a huge part of the book though.
Also, it’s mentioned that the world has evolved past people having separate ethnicities since it’s set a millennium in the future. I will say that it’s established that Andra’s father was Chinese from Southeast Asia (her grandma taught her Hokkien), but I would have liked an explicit statement.
Goddess in the Machine is a standout debut from Johnson, one of the best debuts I’ve ever read. It’s amazingly written and takes worldbuilding to an entirely new level. I will be eagerly awaiting everything she writes, namely the sequel to this book because that ending ended me!
About the Author: As an only child, Lora Beth Johnson grew up telling herself stories and reading past her bedtime. She spent her adulthood collecting degrees, careers, and stamps in her passport before realizing her passion for creating fictional worlds. When she’s not writing, she’s teaching college English and learning new languages. She lives in Davidson, NC with her little roommate, Colocatire the Yorkipoo.