January 11, 2012

Review: Ghost in the Machine by Barbara J. Hancock

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I bought it after reading Janine’s review over at Dear Author even though I wasn’t familiar with Ms. Hancock’s work. I love gritty stories that take place in alternate or post-apocalyptic worlds and Ghost in the Machine is exactly that. I’m so glad I read it because it turned out to be a wonderful and exciting journey.

The world painted in this book has literally gone to ashes. Years ago an alien invasion commanded by an entity called the SoulEater, took over the world and everything in it. Half machine, half something else, the SoulEater had the ability to feed from humans and turn them into ghostly beings called Shadows that wandered the planet reproducing behaviors from their past and sometimes even resembling that past, and whose only purpose was to locate humans and alert the Sweepers. Now, Shadows are a terrible sight because they come back as reflections of their past, that means that a little girl’s shadow sings the same song over and over again, or a former runner comes backs as a horse with a human head. But Sweepers are worse because they are a hybrid between a human and a machine and you can’t tell where the flesh begins and the machine ends, they all are monstrous things devoid of any humanity. Or so it seems.

Our heroine is Bet, and her only purpose in life is keeping her little brother, Douglas, safe. She’s emaciated and what little food she finds she gives to her brother. She worries that she won’t be able to keep him sheltered anymore because the older he gets, the more he realizes how terrible things are. One day, Bet’s worse nightmare comes true because when she gets home she finds out that Sweepers have taken Douglas. With nothing else to loose, and her only reason to live gone, she decides to embark on a suicide mission to rescue him from the SoulEater, when common logic says she should run the other way.

It doesn’t take long for a shadow to find and attack her. She’s too weak to fight and is clearly loosing when out of nowhere a man dressed like a soldier, built like a god and winged like an angel, saves her. She knows this man, whose name is Gabriel, is a Shadow but can see that there’s still some humanity left in him. He offers her his help to find Douglas and even though she doesn’t trust him she knows she needs him, so she reluctantly accepts, and so the adventure begins.

This isn’t a happy book, and the setting is quite dark even for a genre that’s usually filled with darks settings. If you don’t like gritty and bleak worlds where you’re always worrying about the character’s safety, then you should probably skip this one. Otherwise, go ahead and read it because it’s an interesting and riveting story that packs a lot of punch for such a short length and presents us a complex and quite interesting alternate world.

The story is told in first person from Bet’s POV so you really get to see how desperate she is and how bleak and awful life is. She knows going after Douglas means almost certain death but he’s everything to her, she has no reason to live beyond him so either way she dies. She’s also quite lonely, at one point she reflects about how she’s never been able to lean on someone and that as much as she loves her brother sometimes she needs more. That’s why Gabriel makes such a huge difference, because she finally has someone taking care of her. I also loved how strong and good she was, she never gives up but still acknowledges that things are bad. She wasn’t a sunny and positive heroine, but she still was able to give the reader some hope.

We get some parts of the story from Grabriel’s perspective, just enough to give us some background and to let us know where he’s coming from. This is a guy who has spent years fighting and who has managed to keep his humanity after going through something worse than death, even after humans themselves have lost that humanity and all hope.

There are things left unexplained. I’m not exactly sure how the SoulEater works, and how it creates the Shadows and Sweepers. I don’t want to give away any details but the ending was rushed and to me the final resolution is the weakest part of the book, it seemed almost too easy, and again, it wasn’t quite explained. At one point I wasn’t sure how it was going to end, was a happy ending even possible? Well, you have to read it but I’ll say that the ending is satisfying and the story is so engrossing that you are able to overlook its shortcomings.

If you like post-apocalyptic and cyberpunk stories this is a must read, it’s also heavy on the romance so there’s something to cater to every taste. It’s part of a series of novellas that have a post-apocalyptic and cyberpunk theme but aren’t otherwise related , you can get them  Here (Zero Factor) and  here (Gridlock) and I think Samhain is planning on publishing them as an anthology latter this year.

Review by Brie
Grade: 4.5
Sensuality: McSexy


Rule number one: Run from the Shadows. Unless one knows the secret that will save you. 
A Cybershock Story 
I live in a world of waifs and shadows. Live might be an overstatement. I scrounge and scramble and survive in an atmosphere made thick and gray by the ashes of the Fallen. And sometimes I dream of sunlight. My parents were taken, even though they followed all the rules. Never scavenge at night. Never talk to Shadows. Don’t fight the Sweepers. Run. Run. Run. 
Now that they’ve taken my little brother, Douglas, I’ve realized I’ve only been surviving for him. I have two choices: Follow him or lie down and die. I can’t just quit after years of struggle. I wouldn’t know how if I tried. Determination is all I have left. 
And then I meet him. 
He claims to be a rogue who can help me find my brother. It’s got to be a lie. But I don’t run. I stop. I listen. And I make a deal with a Shadow even though I know it will mean the death of me. 
Never talk to Shadows. 
But no one ever told me what would happen if I kissed one. 
Warning: May cause fantasies of forbidden kisses from dark heroes who balance on the edge of evil. Where shadows wait and ashes fall…

Samhain Publishing Ltd. August 30, 2011.


  1. Sounds like a dystopian novel where the world is bleak and the characters have to fight just to keep a piece of their humanity. I have to admit, despite the darkness of these books, I'm enjoying them more and more. I'm glad she was able to find someone to help her on her mission to get her brother. It'd be hard having to survive that kind of world all alone...and probably depressing for the reader too.

    1. Hi Jade!

      Yes, that's exactly how it is! I could never read a book like this without the romance and the HEA, can you imagine the suffering? Too much ;-)


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The books reviewed here were purchased by us. If the book was provided by the author or publisher for review, it will be noted on the post. We do not get any type of monetary compensation from publishers or authors.