Hello humans! Today’s book was one that I hadn’t actually anticipated adding to my TBR in February but then it sort of…happened. It was one of those instances of books sneaking up on me and then having to read the entire series despite the fact that my actual TBR is looming dangerously. So yes, that’s what brought me here, reviewing Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines.
The great traction city London has been skulking in the hills to avoid the bigger, faster, hungrier cities loose in the Great Hunting Ground. But now, the sinister plans of Lord Mayor Mangus Crome can finally unfold.
Thaddeus Valentine, London’s Head Historian and adored famous archaeologist, and his lovely daughter, Katherine, are down in The Gut when the young assassin with the black scarf strikes toward his heart, saved by the quick intervention of Tom, a lowly third-class apprentice. Racing after the fleeing girl, Tom suddenly glimpses her hideous face: scarred from forehead to jaw, nose a smashed stump, a single eye glaring back at him. “Look at what your Valentine did to me!” she screams. “Ask him! Ask him what he did to Hester Shaw!” And with that she jumps down the waste chute to her death. Minutes later Tom finds himself tumbling down the same chute and stranded in the Out-Country, a sea of mud scored by the huge caterpillar tracks of cities like the one now steaming off over the horizon.
Why did I decide to read this book from 2004? Largely because of the film adaptation being made, but also because I’ve seen this series out of the corner of my eye for a good few years now and it seemed like as good a time as any to read them! I always like to have read the book before I see the film, though I know it can lead to a painful disappointment.
Starting with characters, this book reminded me a little of Sabriel in the sense that you can tell it was written a decade or more ago (well-Sabriel was 1996 but you get my point), and what trends were there in writing at the time. I’m going to focus on Hester because she was my favourite character and I think she best depicts what I’m talking about. I think if Hester were being written today she would be described as a ‘strong female character’ and might even have a lot more ‘sassy comebacks.’ Obviously, I love a well written female character and I will always be here for one who can deliver a witty one-liner but it can become a bit of a crutch and a bit of a cliché. In contrast, while Hester is a strong character and she does have some killer lines, she isn’t reduced to the literary equivalent of a ‘heroine’ action figure (now with fourteen sassy catchphrases – just pull the string!).
Of course, it is possible that I have simply been reading a particularly ‘typical’ set of YA protagonists of late, but that’s what stuck out to me about these characters.
But it’s the concept that had me absolutely hooked. The idea of cities which move around devouring smaller cities (aptly named ‘Municipal Darwinism’) is just enchanting (in a very dark way) to me. This idea was, to me, unique as well as being well fleshed out in the author’s mind. That translates perfectly to the page. I think this works because in a way these cities can look however you want them to (for me it was something akin to Howl’s Moving Castle but on a larger scale).
The plot is fast paced and manages not to fall into the trap of ‘reach a new location and take a breath until the nameless guards emerge again and we have to leave’ for the most part. That’s something I’m noticing more and more in books where the characters have to go on any kind of journey.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, though I know it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I can see how some might find the plot a little jumbled and there are some elements which feel a little too coincidental. For me, it was the unique setting and world that Reeve built that made me fall in love with this setting, the characters (and to an extent the plot) were just icing on an already delicious cake.
My rating: 4/5 stars
All opinions are my own.
What say you? Have you read this series (either recently or back in 2004!)? Let me know in the comments below!