The Soul Machines

Fiction - Mystery - Historical
584 Pages
Reviewed on 04/03/2023
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    Book Review

Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite

The Soul Machines is a work of fiction in the history, mystery, family saga, and interpersonal subgenres. The work is best suited to the general adult reading audience and was penned by Alexandru Czimbor. Set in Transylvania, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 1800s, this is an epic tale depicting a time of great religious and social conflict for the people of a little mining town. Three central characters take the stage as unlikely close friends - a poor Romanian, a gypsy, and a rich Hungarian. Together, they face intense scrutiny and intrigue when an artifact purported to be a symbol of all the evils in the human world comes into their possession. As love beckons for some and conflict awaits others, we find ourselves forming a picture of a world gradually heading toward the most dangerous war the planet has ever seen.

Alexandru Czimbor offers an unusual historical fiction account that is unlike anything I’ve read for a long time. If you’re intrigued by the cultural and social issues explored, Czimbor will not disappoint you with the intense level of vivid detail and deeply-considered narrative. He explains and contextualizes many religious, social, and cultural conflicts taking place in this interesting melting pot of a location. The period is represented evocatively, and that same level of attention to detail flows into the daily lives of the characters. Their personalities are distinctive and brought to life with clever dialogue, inflection, and referencing that keep their cultures and attitudes clear and unique. I would not hesitate to recommend The Soul Machines to fans of historical fiction seeking an outstanding and original read. I can’t wait to see what more this author brings us in the future.

Stephanie Chapman

Alexandru Czimbor’s The Soul Machines features Tudor, Roli, and Sami. The three boys are friends who don’t follow society’s caste system. One evening, as Tudor is hiding from Henzci guards, he finds an item hidden in a cave. The following day, he tells Sami and Roli what he discovered. Since Sami is not in school, he decides to investigate further. While touching the item, Sami sees a flash of light. When Tudor and Roli discover Sami has suffered a stroke, Tudor decides to dig up the treasure. As he attempts to transport it home, he encounters Count Richter, who is looking for a device that matches Tudor’s treasure. Tudor and Sami tell the Count about their discovery. He requests that they guard it until he returns and pays them well. Before he leaves, he tells them the device could alter humanity. Little do they know, someone overheard their conversation.

There is never a dull moment in this science fiction story. Alexandru Czimbor penned the perspectives of more characters than the boys. The inner workings of every character the boys encountered were displayed. This gave me a complete view of the motivations of each character. Tudor and Sami were my favorite characters. Tudor’s lack of ambition changes as his thirst for knowledge grows. Sami’s abusive upbringing made him more determined, especially after his stroke. The dreams that occurred in the story were difficult to decipher, and as events unfolded, their translation became symbolic. The transitions from one scene to another were seamless. This is a story that evokes a range of emotions, from pure joy to devastating tragedy. The suspense builds, and the shocking conclusion did not disappoint. I recommend The Soul Machines to readers who enjoy stories full of espionage, character growth, and excellent dialogue.

Jamie Michele

The Soul Machines by Alexandru Czimbor is a 19th-century supernatural mystery. The main character, Tudor, is out among the chestnuts on an estate when he comes across something that he knows immediately is different. How special it is does not reveal itself until the story progresses and Czimbor fills in the blanks of friendship in rural Transylvania. Rich, poor and gypsy commingle in a trio that are as close as brothers and who Tudor will rely on more than ever as his fate puts him in line with Orsolya, an aristocrat's daughter that he falls in love with but is betrothed to another. The strength of the artifact turns out to be horribly dangerous and the amount of pain inflicted on Tudor is incomprehensible, even to a young man who had very little to start with.

Alexandru Czimbor breathes life into a Romanian landscape that is almost cinematic in The Soul Machines. He highlights a caste system that is inherent and inescapable, regardless of who your friends are. If you are too low to marry for love, no amount of prestige will change this. Two-hundred thousand to get someone out of debt might be, but otherwise, it is all about wealth and alliance. Tudor is a strong young man and what he recovers from is nothing short of miraculous. When everything is stolen from him and he is betrayed, he resolves himself to a single course of action. "The idea of escaping from this place was creeping in his mind, though, and he hung to it like a drowning man to the last bit of air.” But first, he has a mystery to solve and an artifact to reckon with, and it will take even more from him before he is able to get that last bit of air. Recommended.

Asher Syed

Three unlikely friends happen to come into possession of a life-changing artifact in the metaphysical and historical speculative fiction epic, The Soul Machines by Alexandru Czimbor. The novel is set in 19th century Eastern Europe and, more specifically, a mining town in Romania where life is simple even in its hardship, and a collective of friends challenge the socio-economic structure of the story's time and place. The cogs in the wheel keep the structure whole and among them are Tudor, Sami, and Roli, a friendship forged against the odds. Tudor is the one who finds the artifact and the story's central character. As the plot unfolds, the dynamic of the friends and the landowner/serf-style distinctions play out. The artifact carries unimaginable amounts of power and danger, pitting Tudor against the most powerful factions of church, state, and the wealthy, all at a cost that involves everything he knows and loves crashing down around him.

I love novels that take place in historic Europe and particularly when they involve areas that most know very little about. The Soul Machines by Alexandru Czimbor flips the usual myth and lore of Transylvania during what the British herald as the Victorian era and puts focus on an evil that does not come from a paranormal villain. The villains are entirely human and Czimbor reveals the worst of humanity that is often buried within those who have been consumed by it, allowing it to emerge when a relic is unearthed in a corner of the world that is known for literary unearthing. There is romance and this is a hugely transformative part of Tudor's character-driven arc. The emphasis is on women's lack of agency and the unlikely chance of any woman getting it, especially when the disparity of wealth and social status is astronomical. From a technical standpoint, the writing can be on the awkward side as words are sometimes used out of context, and for readers, the prose is quite rough around the edges, but the story itself balances this out. Overall, this is a good read and I do see where prequels and spin-offs can go in several wonderful directions.

Rabia Tanveer

The Soul Machines by Alexandru Czimbor is a historical mystery novel set at the end of the 19th century in Transylvania. The story begins in a small mining town in Transylvania during the chestnut season when our protagonist finds something strange. Tudor comes across an unknown device in a cave on his yearly trek in the forest near the lands of the local bishop. Excited about his discovery, he shares it with his best friends, Roli and Sami. Everything starts innocently, but these three men have no idea everything is about to change for the worse. Their once peaceful albeit judgmental town is now in utter chaos. Somehow, people’s worst is driving them insane. Murder, mayhem, and distress turn their small town inside out, all because of the strange device Tudor found in the cave. What is happening in their town?

The Soul Machines is fascinating; the story grips you and makes you stay. Usually, I am a fast reader and finish a novel in a couple of hours; however, I took my time with it. Alexandru Czimbor creates a perfect story with incredible character, a strong plot, and fantastic execution. The relationship between Tudor, Sami, and Roli drives the story forward. The three come from different walks of life and love each other dearly. The mystery behind the device is outstanding. It challenges us to think about the what, how, and why of it all. The descriptions create the right atmosphere from the first chapter and ensure we remain engaged until the end. I had limited knowledge of the Austro-Hungarian empire before its collapse, and this story reflects the area, socio-political atmosphere, and culture. There is nothing I don’t like about the story, and all credit for that goes to Czimbor. He is a master storyteller; even though the story is long, it is worth it.