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Review: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

mortal engines philip reeve Review: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

This book appears on our list of books about flying cities

Oh, Philip Reeve, I do apologise for taking so long to get to this book. Mortal Engines has been lurking on my shelves for years now, and only just now have I become acquainted with its charms. And really, how can one not fall in love with a book that begins thusly:

It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea

In this astonishingly creative and eminently memorable debut, Reeve undertakes the most exquisite narrative romp through a world that at its crux is all about metropolistical imperialism or, as Reeve himself puts it, municipal Darwinism. It is a novel that nods to James Blishs Cities In Flight, and towards such steampunkish creations as China Mievilles moving train city of Iron Council and the floating city of Armada (The Scar), or perhaps Stephen Hunts Court of the Air (although I do suspect that it predates all but the Blish). Its the sort of thing that might result from a tea party between Diana Wynne Jones and Alex Keller: a mix of whimsy, horror, and all manner of fabulous shenanigans.

Mortal Engines is a post-apocalyptic tale occurring some few thousand years in the future, long after the Doomsday clock has struck midnight and humanity has blown itself to smithereens. As the dust from this grim holocaust settled, those who remained alive became scavengers, picking out anything that might help them remain afloat. The result? A sort of turtle-like nomadism, where hordes of citizens travel together with rather more than a rucksack on their backs. Instead, they travel with all of their belongingsin some cases, whole cities. But cities, especially mobile cities, are demanding things, and require all manner of fuel and resources to remain afloat. Reeves cities do so by preying on other, smaller towns, villages, and shanty-towns, chasing them across the earths surfaces and quite literally devouring them.

But as our 21st sensibilities will tell us, resources are never finite, and the cities in question can only do so much Hungry Hungry Hippo-like munching before theres nothing left to scavengehence the Shakespearean title of this volume. Not to mention the fact that the larger a city grows, and more resources it requires to sustain itself. (Goodness, thats rather a familiar notion, isnt it?) But Thaddeus Valentine, big-chinned hero and braggart, is working with the Mayor of the reconstructed city of London to increase the resources available to them. The key? The mysterious Medusa device, a piece of ancient technology whose existence must be kept top-secret at all costs.

But young Tom Natsworthy, a lowly historian whose days are spent cataloguing rather more benign pieces of old-tech, the sort of stuff pooh-poohed by the engineer crew, a group whose technological prowess is seen as far more essential to society than any sort of knowledge of the past (yes, a certain adage regarding the need to know and understand history in order to avoid past mistakes does come to mind), suddenly finds himself privy to information about the Medusa device, and his life is just a tad at risk as a result. Tom is unceremoniously thrown from the citys lofty heights, and finds himself trapped on, of all things, the ground. His only companion? The hideously disfigured Hester Shaw, a butt-kicking young lass who is hell-bent on murdering Thaddeus Valentine. And who, incidentally, is being stalked by a relentless Terminator-like creature known as Shrike. Their goal? To get back to London and prevent Valentine from 'using this Medusa device to evil ends. And all without dying or being turned into slavessomething rather easier said than done.'The two friends thus undertake a Verne-esque journey around the world as they seek to return to the smokestacks of London, and encounter all number of colourful folks and societies along the way.

Admittedly there are points where the story bloats a little, or becomes a touch repetitive, but these gripes are minor given the sublime narrative landscape Reeve allows us to traverse. Fascinating themes abound, with notions of colonialism and imperialism perhaps two of the most salient, and Reeve carefully addresses issues relating to both the colonisers and the colonised, as well as the problems associated with superimposing a given set of values on to a particular context with a view to decrying it as barbarous or primitive. Reeve explores the ethics of revenge and motivated violence, and takes us through some challenging, morally ambiguous situations as a result. One idea that I particularly seized on was that of our lifes actions following us through into the next life, an allusion to a multi-generational karmic continuance that has ostensibly been ongoing here since prior to the 60 Minute War. Environmentalism is another notion that is at the forefront of the novel, although not in a didactic manner, and there is also the weighing of the value of arts and culture vis that of technology, and of the value of the past in directing the future. Reeve also addresses notions of class, deservedness, and of the value of human life on a variety of different levels and within a variety of contexts, something that I think is extremely ambitious given the relative youth of his target audience. I could continue on merrily like this, but for once Ill attempt at least a pretence of brevity. Ah, coffee-table conversations and book club discussions, here I come.

Mortal Engines is a superb read on so many levels, and is full of clever witticisms (eg the winsome pun of Airsperanto being the common language of the air), larger-than-life but still winsomely believable characters, and breathtaking vistas. The only good thing about my having waited for so long to read this fabulous little book is that in the meantime Reeve has been busy churning out its numerous sequels.

Rating: star Review: Mortal Engines by Philip Reevestar Review: Mortal Engines by Philip Reevestar Review: Mortal Engines by Philip Reevestar Review: Mortal Engines by Philip Reevehalfstar Review: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve (superb)

Purchase Mortal Engines from Amazon | Book Depository UK | Book Depository USA

Other books by Philip Reeve:

predators gold reeve Review: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeveinfernal devices philip reeve Review: Mortal Engines by Philip Reevea darkling plain reeve Review: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

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  1. Oooh! These go on my list! I would read them just for the cover art, but I see from your review that they are not to be missed. So much for my no more series decision!
    stargazerpuj recently posted..Mini Review- Coyote Ugly by Pati Nagle

  2. Stephanie /

    Oh yes, do pick them up! Ive only read the first, but it works as a standalone, so if you dont like the idea of reading a series, youll still do fine. :)

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