Total honesty time: as someone who did most of their growing up in the 90s and early 2000s, I decided that I would read this book based completely and entirely on the title. There was literally no other reason. I hadn’t heard anything about the book, didn’t know anyone who had read it, nothing. That’s the power of a pun based on the name of a rap metal band to a 90s kid…
And really, the mashup of styles that is typical of the band Rage Against the Machine is a pretty apt comparison for what’s happening in the book Mage Against the Machine. The book features two main storylines, which isn’t particularly unique, but they basically exist in different genres, which is much less common in my experience.
Mage Against the Machine: Converging Storylines
The first storyline introduced is that of Nikolai Strauss, a young wizard starting his adult life and career in the Edge Guard, the group of mages that patrols the borders of the Veils, the secluded communities of wizards scattered throughout the world.
The wizards have withdrawn into these Veils after humanity dabbled with magic and inevitably used it in conjunction with bombs to destroy the world and wipe out human life outside the Veils. Nikolai has a confusing encounter with a former mentor he believed to be dead, and who gives him a mysterious artifact with strange powers. This artifact sets him on his journey to ultimately discover the truth about the Veils and humanity. So, basically a post-apocalyptic wizard story.
The second storyline follows Jemma Burton, a cybernetically enhanced human who helps smuggle people through the human underground underneath the noses (so to speak) of the Artificial Intelligence overlords who have subjugated humanity through fully-immersive VR (for the willing) and brutal violence (for the unwilling). Humanity has lost the ability to have children, yet Jemma is suddenly tasked with smuggling a young pregnant woman and her caretaker.
This dangerous mission launches her on a collision course with the greatest enemy she has yet faced, along with the ghosts of her past. So, basically a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk Children of Men type of thing.
Throughout the book (as you can probably guess) these storylines converge, with both Nikolai and Jemma finding out that reality is quite different than they think it is. And it all leads to a fairly action-packed conclusion with a few surprises along the way, including a potential setup for a sequel, which I would probably read (especially if the title was another 90s pun…).
Overall, I went into Mage Against the Machine with no expectations at all of how the book would be, other than that I assumed it would have a bit of a wry sense of humor and be at least somewhat self-aware of itself, given the title. In these meager expectations I was disappointed; the book doesn’t really contain much humor, and it’s possible that it takes itself a little too seriously. I did like the story, though, and I thought the genre mashup was pretty interesting, so I am giving Mage Against the Machine +2 Cannarfs.