Goddess in the Machine is a jaw-dropping surprise at every chapter break

Goddess in the Machine by Lora Beth Johnson. Image Courtesy Penguin Random House
Goddess in the Machine by Lora Beth Johnson. Image Courtesy Penguin Random House /

Lora Beth Johnson’s Goddess in the Machine will outdo many of the sci-fi and fantasy novels you will read this year. Its secret? It never stops surprising you.

When it comes to book reviews, I am extremely particular with my stars.

I’ve never given a book one star. Two to only several. Three and four to many. But five stars? That’s a rating reserved for a very special kind of book.

To give a book five stars doesn’t mean you loved every moment, that you resonated with every page or that every protagonist feels like your new best friend; every antagonist your latest worst enemy.

A book worthy of five stars isn’t uncommon. But when you typically read over 100 books a year, you discover that being too generous with the highest praise makes it feel less earned, somehow. If I gave every book a full set of stars, those stars would come to mean nothing.

To explain exactly what qualifies a book for a five-star review, I must use Goddess in the Machine as an example. Because up until the last 20 pages or so, I thought I knew what my rating would be. I thought I knew a four-star book by heart, and that this was one of them.

And I was absolutely wrong.

Lora Beth Johnson isn’t one to settle for just one plot twist. Oh, no. I actually lost count of how many times I thought I knew exactly who these characters were and where they were headed only to discover — nope — I am the oblivious reader. I know nothing. I will never guess how this ends.

(I did not. Not even close.)

Some stories put a lot of effort into saving all their Big Twist Energy for that one end reveal — there’s that often exciting but still slow build through the first two acts, the foreshadowing, the “something big is coming” hints.

But Johnson somehow manages to guide readers through small twist after small twist and still gets you with that one final “WHAT??!”

That’s not an easy feat to pull off. Which is just one of many things that makes the book a truly amazing accomplishment. Should I mention that it’s also subtly but masterfully body-positive? That it could have been yet another human-falls-in-love-with-an-android romance but…wasn’t?

No major spoilers here. That would ruin the fun.

What was the twist that bumped Goddess of the Machine from four stars to five? You’ll have to figure that one out for yourself.

The linguistics fanatic in me can’t leave out the brilliant use of spoken language in this narrative. Admittedly, 80 percent of my sci-fi/fantasy expertise comes from Star Wars. But here’s a question I never considered: In books, why do people from the future almost always speak clear 21st-century English?

Johnson apparently had the same question (gripe?), because she took the time to consider how language changes over time and created an amazing imaginary model of what English might sound like in the 3000s. (Spoiler alert: It’s fantastic.)

Not only do the characters speak with this slightly altered dialect — it also serves as a plot device, where several miscommunications between Andra and her newfound companions lead to mind-blowing discoveries of the truth.

If you’re looking for a page-turning science-fiction adventure with a female protagonist who’s a terrible dancer and is as nerdy as they come (relatable), Goddess in the Machine is bound to be your new favorite book.

A book that more than earns its five stars — and one you do not want to skip.

Next. Megan McCafferty’s The Mall is the ideal mix of ’90s nostalgia and hilarious shenanigans. dark

Goddess in the Machine is available now wherever books are sold.