January 09, 2020

C.W. Snyder: "The Infernal Machine" (ARC Review)

Title: The Infernal Machine  [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: C.W. Snyder [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Supernatural, Fantasy, Horror
Year: 2020
Age: 18+
Stars: 3/5
Pros: Imaginative journey into despair, guilt, and literal Hell.
Cons: The stream of flashbacks, nightmares and visions (often of alternate lives) is disorienting at times.
WARNING! Lots of heavy imagery/gore.
Will appeal to: Fans of steampunk with a strong supernatural flavour.

Blurb: Arthur White lived a simple life tending the dead in a quiet cemetery, until meeting a mysterious stranger known only as Mr. Black. In a few short hours, the stranger turns the groundskeeper’s life upside down, burdening Arthur with an immortal clockwork heart. Over the course of years, Arthur works as Mr. Black’s right hand, doing the things the old warlock cannot dirty his hands with. The death of a mutual friend and the discovery of Lucifer’s cast-off heart catalyze them into action, setting off a global chase to recover the artifact and open the door to death. Along the way, Arthur struggles with evils he’s committed, dreams of loss that plague him, and desperate loneliness that may be cured by the appearance of a mysterious new companion, Ava. But before they can get to know one another, they must confront a cult out to steal the heart for their own ends. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received a review ecopy of this book from the author, and I have already reviewed two of his titles in the past. This didn't influence my opinion in any way.


Since I'm a fan of Snyder's afterlife YA/NA/adult crossover series The Balance, I jumped at the chance of reviewing his standalone adult The Infernal Machine - also because the blurb sounded awesome. Unfortunately - and yes, this is awkward, since I requested the book from its very author - I didn't enjoy TIM as much as Snyder's other titles. On the other hand, there's a lot to love in this book - it's inventive, evocative, and it successfully blends a classic steampunk trope (the clockwork heart) with the abysmal and crazy plan of a Nazi cult (resurrecting Hitler and his clique) and a journey through Hell that rivals the Divine Comedy. Snyder puts a spin on the mechanical heart trope, showing (and sometimes telling) us how it influences the way Arthur feels/reacts to things (or most of the times doesn't), and why he accepts his new life - and the ghastly tasks it involves - the way he does, until Ava stirs something in him. The two of them ultimately embark on a quest for another heart (Lucifer's), in order to open a portal to Hell for a rescue mission, apparently complying with their "saviour" Mr. Black's directive, in fact with plans and motives of their own; all while wizardly Nazi cultists try to beat them to the heart, and later, Hell itself tries its best to undo them. Snyder paints a vivid landscape of dark magic and horrors, on which he projects themes of guilt and redemption, despair and - if not hope - love at leastAs outrageous as the mix can sound, it works, and (darkly) entertains. [...]


As I said, sadly, there were a few hiccups along the way that prevented me to enjoy TIM as much as I thought I would.
First off, the books is full of memories, nightmares, and nightmares that read as alternate memories. I do appreciate a non-linear story, but it was only upon reading this one for a second time that I started to make sense of some of them. They seem to take as much space as the action itself, while in my opinion, the story would have benefited from more fleshing out and more time spent with the actual characters than with their oniric counterparts. Also, Ava is a strong and potentially complex heroine, but it seems to me that she falls too fast for Arthur, and is too ready to comply with whatever Mr. Black is setting the two of them up to, even given the particular circumstances and her specific reasons (that I didn't entirely buy). For what it's worth, I felt like we barely skimmed the surface of Mr. Black as well.
It also took me a while to get my bearings in regard to the time frame. The first pages sound like the story is situated in the past, which later will prove to be correct; but the real action takes place circa 60 years after (because his clockwork heart made Arthur virtually immortal and impervious to ageing, and as for Mr. Black, he must have perfected other means to get the same results, though we don't know which ones), and I didn't realise there was such a time gap until Arthur directly addressed it (I was beginning to think that the war he alluded to in the first chapter had occurred in an alternate version of our world, in what would be our recent past). Besides, in the first pages - when Arthur and Mr. Black's paths first collide - we meet a waitress who says she was born "in 00", and everything seems to suggest that she's young; but later we're told that Arthur met Mr. Black around 1940, which would make her 40 at the time.
All in all, if you're looking for a dark and complex tale involving magic, Nazis, war memories, captured angels (probably one of the best assets in the story), evil mentors, monsters, love, guilt, actual Hell, clockwork hearts, and even a magical nod to Stepford Wives, The Infernal Machine will probably work for you 🙂.

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  1. You're a star. I mean, reading a book through two times to review it. There must be a medal for that. I don't mind a non-linear story, but I know there are many it doesn't work for. Magic and Nazis is quite an interesting combination too

    1. "I mean, reading a book through two times to review it. There must be a medal for that."
      LOL, thank you! But I always try to do that, because most of the times (especially if I'm conflicted about the rating), it helps me clearing my head.

      Magic and Nazis is a fresh and interesting angle!

  2. I do like the sound of the steampunk elements and it does sound like there's a lot going on here! Definitely intriguing although I think I understand the issues you had as well- the timeframe elements do seem like they could be a little unclear. Little things like that can definitely affect how a story reads. And non- linear is good to a point but yeah I can see it affecting the flow if it's such a huge part of the book? Anyway- great review, and thanks for sharing! It definitely sounds like an intriguing read!!

    1. "Little things like that can definitely affect how a story reads. And non- linear is good to a point but yeah I can see it affecting the flow if it's such a huge part of the book?"
      Yep, that's it! I'm used to reading non-linear books, but this one was full of alternate (oniric) timelines, and since it's not a time-travel book, I had some difficulties with them. That being said, it's an imaginative - and yes, intriguing - story.

  3. I don't think I would be so committed! If I'm conflicted about a rating, I usually sit on it for a few days. Also, I really thought that was a spider on the cover when I first glanced at it -- eesh. Way to give a girl nightmares! ;)

    Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear? 💬

    1. I've noticed that reading a second time does help, because - especially with complex books like this - one can't possibly take everything in on the first one.

      "Way to give a girl nightmares! ;)"
      Well...after your scorpion gif, we're even! 😂 😉

  4. I've never heard of this series before, but I'm interested just by the character of a groundskeeper in the cemetery. My younger sister loves horror/darker style books and has read a lot more of them than I, so I'll have to bring these to her attention. Anyway, I'm sorry that this book wasn't quite as enjoyable as you had hoped. Non-linear stories for me can be very hit-or-miss. Still, it's commendable that you were willing to read it twice! I probably would have given up quickly XD. Lovely review :))

    claire @ clairefy

    1. Actually, this is a standalone - the series by the same author I was referring to is called The Balance, and it's VERY loosely based on Alice in Wonderland (which would be Alice in the Afterlife in this case 😉). I hope you can get your sister interested in some of these anyway! And thanks 🙂.

  5. Oh pity you didn't enjoy this as much- it sounds pretty confusing to be fair. I really like the ideas, but I'm not sure I could follow all of that!!

    1. It takes a couple or reads, to be fair - or at least it took me! 😉


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