I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Goddess in the Machine by Lora Beth Johnson. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
Andromeda—Andra for short—is put into stasis in preparation for a hundred-year journey to a new planet, to escape the dying Earth. When she wakes, though, she finds out that it has been a thousand years, and nothing is as she expected. She doesn’t know where she is, and is now worshipped as a goddess. She meets the young man who woke her, an illegitimate prince trying to regain favor with the current government, and she decides to make an alliance with him in the hopes she can learn what went wrong during the last thousand years.
Andra is a decent protagonist, though a bit helpless for a lot of the plot to the political machinations that are swirling around her. She grows stronger in the end, but overall didn’t wow me. I didn’t really like Zhade. He is very manipulative and willing to use Andra for his own purposes, and even his growing fondness of her didn’t endear him to me. The other side characters were fine—especially Lew—but didn’t get quite enough development or personality. They felt somewhat one dimensional.
A lot of the plot hinges on courtly intrigue, but somehow there wasn’t much politics. I wanted to see how Andra had to navigate the day-to-day strangeness of being seen as a goddess, but we only got the bare minimum. I also wanted more evidence that the antagonist was actually terrible. We have Maret, the current ruler, who is a bit despotic but easily swayed by his mother, the one Andra and Zhade are really concerned about. However, there isn’t enough textual evidence for me that she is worse. The characters seem to take it as a matter of course that she would be a ruthless dictator, but I feel like I missed when it was firmly established that she is evil. She just seems vaguely menacing and disliking of Zhade (and I can’t really blame her for the latter).
One other pet peeve: the slang. Andra uses terms from the 22nd century, and Zhade and the others use their 32nd century language, which has evolved greatly from ours. Andra’s are mostly familiar terms like “tech,” “bot,” “laser,” and so on, but Zhade uses other words like “marah” and “beedub” (meaning “am I right?” and “by the way”). Most of Zhade’s language is easy enough to figure out, and honestly is rather clever a lot of the time. However, it gets tiresome to read, especially the chapters from his point of view. I’m sure the intention is to immerse the reader in the futuristic culture, but for some reason, I found it annoying. I’m sure this won’t be how everyone reacts; it just didn’t work for me.
All that aside, the last act was genuinely intriguing and unexpected. There are some good plot twists; the last one in particular promises an interesting character arc for Andra in upcoming books (I don’t know how long this series is supposed to be). Unfortunately, I think these interesting changes came a bit too late for me, and didn’t entirely make up for the things I didn’t feel too enthusiastic about.
In the end, Goddess in the Machine is a fairly clever futuristic sci-fi story, with romance and good twists. It shows a lot of promise, but I found it fell short in several areas for me. Still, I think high schoolers will like this, and I’d be willing to bet debut author Johnson will have a lot of success in the future.
Overall rating: 7.5/10
Goddess in the Machine is set to be published in June 2020!