Andra Watts wakes up from cryogenic sleep in a room that’s too dirty, a location that’s too unfamiliar, and a time that’s 900 years too late. In this new world, technology is magic, everyone she’d known is dead, and the community she wakes up to is one that has worshipped her sleeping form for as long as they can remember. All she can do now is pretend until she can make it back home.
The exiled Prince Zhade has been searching for the Goddess for four long years and plotting all the while, so when he finally finds and wakes her he’s quick to set his plans in motion. With any luck, he’ll have time to use her to take back his throne before she’s killed by his people.
One of the most unique aspects of the novel was the language spoken in this new world. Andra has woken up in a time and place with folks who speak a language that’s reminiscent of English, but largely unintelligible. While some of the characters can speak something similar to English (called “High Goddess”), they still have a very different accent (which sounds great on audio, though it could have been more consistent) and occasionally use words derived from 21st century English, but for which context is necessary to understand. Initially, these changes sounded ridiculous, such as the use of “peacing” for “leaving”, but as I became familiar with the terms, their use added depth to the novel and forced me to consider if this evolution of language could be reflected in reality.
While some of the changes were silly (such as “boyo” for “boy/man/guy”), it’s easy to imagine that 21st century English sounds equally ridiculous to English speakers of the past. The time I was least appreciative of this element of the novel was when one of the characters said “salted” as opposed to “peppered.” At that point, you’re just switching out words and muddling phrases in a way that doesn’t even seem logical. Nonetheless, this choice deepened worldbuilding that was already absolutely immersive. Listening on the audiobook definitely made it easier to comprehend this book, especially when it comes to the language, so I’d highly recommend trying that out if the option is available.
The plot of Goddess in the Machine was extremely well crafted, to the point that it overshadowed anything I felt for the characters by the end. The same can easily be said for the world-building, though that was engaging throughout the entire novel, while the plot really only picked up in the second half. The number of plot twists that occurred near the end of the novel made my head spin. It was awesome. In the beginning, I found the plot to be a bit aimless and clunky, but by the end, the way all the threads are pulled together makes it all worthwhile, even if it gets slow at parts. There’s a very big reveal near the end about one of the main characters that makes the whole book that much more symbolic and had me appreciating scenes I’d previously overlooked, which means I might be skimming through it in the near future to see what I missed on first reading.
One thing I wish was addressed further was Andra’s body image. Andra is consistently self-conscious throughout the novel, and only in the end does she seem to embrace her new status, only to have that completely flipped and ending up second-guessing her worth once more. The way she talks about her body specifically isn’t always obviously disparaging, so I very well might be projecting onto her, but the sense I get is that she isn’t comfortable in her own skin. This ends up being pivotal to the plot, but that characterization seems to be thrown out at the end due to a revelation about her character that seems to reduce the importance of that aspect of Andra’s growth, though I’d really like to see it addressed in the sequel. It’s also important to note that she seemed not to be specifically concerned about being fat, as that’s mentioned more in passing than as something she dislikes about herself.
The characters themselves are interesting enough. Andra is smart, funny, and a little awkward, but most of all she seems like a person I could meet in the real world. Zhade, on the other hand, is harder to read, and for some reason, his perspective always felt a bit off. He’s constantly hiding his motives, so it’s possible that his ~mysteriousness~ forces some distance between him and the reader. I liked the side characters as well, though besides Maret, they were all pretty flat. All in all, the characters weren’t a strong point. I did enjoy the relationship between Zhade and Andra, which I can’t even begin to map out, but their interactions are definitely entertaining.
While I was skeptical in the beginning, I eventually grew to enjoy Goddess in the Machine, and by the end, I was absolutely blown away. I’d recommend listening to it on audiobook if the language barrier gets in the way, but other than that, I’d recommend this book to anyone who loves YA sci-fi, prizes worldbuilding over character development, and doesn’t mind being slapped in the face by these plot lines (and plot twists) at every turn.