With the Harry Potter craze currently in full swing, a lot of people are constantly looking for the "next" Harry Potter series. There are lots of contenders for the title; from the definite rip-off Charlie Bone series to the sly slightly evil Artemis Fowl. Personally, I've read a great deal of these and none really hit me as having the same moral core or elaborate well-constructed world that the Potter books conjure up. Until now, that is. With "Mortal Engines", the first in author Philip Reeve's "Hungry City Chronicles" we have the privilege of finally reading about a world that is just as creative, enjoyable, and exciting as anything J.K. Rowling could ever have imagined.
It is the future, and the world is not as it was. After humanity almost destroyed itself entirely in what became known as the Sixty-Minute War, civilizations have taken it upon themselves to become mobile. Cities, townships, and even suburbs now move across the land, eating anything smaller than themselves. This system is referred to as Municipal Darwinism with the strong eating the weak. The city of London is a particularly vicious devourer of smaller villages and it is here that we meet Tom. A young Historian, Tom idolizes the famed Historian and explorer Thaddeus Valentine and his lovely daughter Katherine. When Tom narrowly keeps a severely deformed girl from assassinating Valentine, he finds himself wound up in a series of betrayals and adventures that may well lead to the end of civilization once more.
The book is filled to the brim with interesting characters. There Grike, the last survivor of the old world who is more machine than man. Or Anna Fang, the red clad aviatrix that fights against the moving cities as an Anti-Tractionist. Or the pirate Chrystler Peavey that commands a posh pirate suburb and dreams of becoming a proper gentleman someday. You care for these characters, which makes it all the more painful when Reeve decides to kill them off. I've never read an author so ready to end the lives of his heroes with as much aplomb as Mr. Reeve, though I should've caught on when he killed off my favorite character almost exactly halfway through. Much like fellow British author Philip Pullman, Reeve has a knack for juggling multiple points of view and storylines without loosing his narrative thread. And like Pullman his story involves airships and a boy and girl on a quest to (in effect) save the world. Unlike Pullman, Reeve less interested in the how the characters' actions will affect the universe, and instead will affect their world.
I was especially taken with the theme of obsession in this book. The evil Mayor Chrome, leader of London, is obsessed with making his town reign supreme over the rest of the world. Hester Shawn, deformed by the blade of Thaddeus Valentine, is obsessed with killing the man who murdered her parents. And Grike, the man machine that was one of the millions of walking dead soldiers participating in the Sixty-Minute War, is obsessed with a kind of love for Hester Shaw (though he spends much of his time in this book hunting her down to be killed). It might have been nice to spend a little more time getting to know what the characters' lives were like before this book ever took place. I ended up wanting to know a lot more about Tom and Hester's families and the lives they lead, but there didn't seem to be enough time to linger over such details.
One objection to the American cover of "Mortal Engines". For the most part, the cover is very impressive, showing airships blowing up in front of the structure that is London. In the corner however are, who I can only assume is supposed to be, Tom and Hester. Tom is clutching a book, an odd choice since there is no point in the story where a book is important to his character. Hester, however, is completely wrong. The book describes her as have a huge gash down her face with a scar splitting her in two. Her nose is mashed in and she only has one eye. Now look at the cover. Apparently the cover artist decided that putting a deformed female would hurt "Mortal Engines"'s sales. So instead we've this cute little waif. Half her face is in shadow, yes, and there is the slightest hint of a scar on her forehead. But her nose is completely intact and she's smiling cheekily at the camera. Forgive me, but this is not the death obsessed horribly disfigured often crazed and violent Hester I came to love so much. Mr. Cover Artist, for shame.
The book itself, however, is a delight. I can't recommend it enough. Go out, buy it, read it, and tell me that you didn't think it was the greatest addition to the teen literary futuristic canon to come down the pike since "The Giver". When people review books they often rely on that old phrase, "I didn't want it to end". Well I actually didn't. Amazing. It's a great book and a fantastic story.
In the years beyond the 30th century, after life as we know it is destroyed in the Sixty Minutes War, the world is divided into three: the Static communities, who live in farms and buildings firmly stationed on the earth, the aviators, who travel the Bird Roads in the sky, and the Traction Cities, the giant cities on engineered wheels who live by the Municipal Darwinism - the big cities devour the little cities for their resources. And the biggest Traction City of them all is London, on the move for larger hunting grounds and more resources.
Living in London are two very different young people - Tom, a Third Class Apprentice in the History Guild, and Katherine, an upper class noble daughter of the famed archeologist Thaddeus Valentine, whom both of them adore for his bravery and exciting exploits. Yet after London destroys the small town of Salthook whilst the three of them are touring the Gut (the engineering belly of London), one of the refugees attacks Mr Valentine in a furious rage, and is only just stopped by Tom's intervention. Chasing her up the levels of the Gut, Tom corners her before a chute that leads to the desolate Out-Country, and is horrified beyond comprehension when Mr Valentine pushes the both of them down it. Now stranded in the Out-Country with the young lady named Hester Shaw, with the hideously disfigured face, Tom is pushed into a series of adventures including aviators, pirates, slave-traders and Static towns, during which he begins to realise: things do not exist as he has understood them. And all the while, they are being hunted by a tragic and fatal being known as Shrike...
Meanwhile, back in London, Katherine is doing some investigating of her own concerning the disappearence of Tom and the assassin. Once her father leaves on a mission which purpose he conceals even from her, she begins to find pieces of the puzzle concerning an Ancient piece of Old-Tech that is somehow wrapped up in Hester Shaw and her father's unspoken past. Together with a witness to Tom's fall, a lowly worker named Bevis Pod, Katherine learns the truth about her father, and the catastrophic plans the Mayor of London has in store for the device known as the MEDUSA.
The real enjoyment of this book comes from Philip Reeve's wonderful creation of an interesting and detailed (but without becoming too encyclopedic) world, set in a post-apocalyptic world where collosal cities trundle desolate plains, filled with relics of the Old World - the world as we know it today. Usually descriptions of machinery or other technicalities bore and confuse me, but Reeve writes with such clarity, that the city of London and its layered Tiers is brought to complete and convincing life. Likewise, the cultures found outside the cities are unique and interesting, and once Tom and Hester start out on their journey, its very likely one will be unable to resist exploring with them.
Storywise, the plot is simple, but with just enough twists to keep one interested. All the characters, even villians that at first glance appear one-dimensional have hidden motives to their actions, and the conflict between them and the cultures that they represent is believable, and morally complex. Only the ending disappointed me somewhat - Reeve seemed determined to kill off as many of his characters as possible, leaving me a little immune to the tragedy of death, and the conclusion ends more on a note of despair than hope for the future, given the sheer amount of death and destruction that the survivors leave in their wake.
Of all the major protagonists, the females end up being more interesting than the males, though in fact Tom is given the most attention. This is unfortunate, as I found myself disliking Tom for much of the story - he is a character like Lloyd Alexander's Taran in the Chronicles of Prydain, in that he dreams of glory, thinks highly of the wrong people, and holds tight to beliefs that the reader can see are false from the very beginning of the book. Unlike Taran however, it takes a long time for Tom to find self-realisation, and as such the reader feels on-going frustration for his ignorance and on-going commitment to make the wrong choices. However, he *does* eventually grow (albeit in a rather patchy manner), and through him Reeve addresses the important questions of life. Reeve's other hero, Bevin Pod is endearingly shy and uncertain of himself, showing immense bravery when he is aware of the horrors he would face in the Deep Gut should he be caught, and dotingly loyal to Katherine.
It is the girls that I found more likeable - Hester Shaw, an imbittered, independant young woman whose hideous face is an ongoing pain for one who loves and appreciates beauty, and lives only to bring death to the one who inflicted this upon her. Katherine at first glance appears as a "poor little rich girl", but is intelligent, resourceful, and has a clear idea in her mind of the differences between right and wrong.
"Mortal Engines" is ultimately a well-crafted book, along the lines of Phillip Pullman's "Northern Lights" and Garth Nix's "Sabriel/Lirael/Abhorsen" trilogy. If you liked the atmosphere and flavour of those two books, I strongly suggest "Mortal Engines" a go, and keep your eyes open for the sequel.
on June 1, 2004
This is ostensibly a work for the young'uns, and probably best for mature elementary school kids. That said, I'm an adult willing to admit that I was looking for something to fill in the void left between Harry Potter installments. I'm not about to read the shameless rip-off Charlie Bone series, and the Artemis Fowl books just don't appeal. I gave this a shot instead, and it was a genuinely satisfying discovery.
The tone of the book is dark, and the setting close to the unfortunately-named 'steam punk' genre. It might be better to refer to this as a Steam Age adventure. The sort of technologies and societies one would expect from Jules Verne, with a modern sense of noir and maturity. Some kids will undoubtedly find it disturbing, with its occasionally graphic descriptions of violence and death. I'm of the opinion, however, that it's just the thing for people of all ages who resent books that talk down to readers-- you won't find any comedic sidekicks, fart jokes, bumbling villains, or irritating song 'n dance numbers here.
Instead, Reeve has spun a believable tale of growth, courage and love amid trying times, albeit in a far-fetched world. My complaints are minimal: there are a few oh-so-clever jokes that will obviously appeal only to those over 25 or so (e.g. the airship named 'My Shirona'), and the plot developments are sometimes a bit too convenient and underdeveloped. Which is to say that if anything, this book should have been longer in the telling.
Still, this is a book for young readers that I'm critiquing as an adult, so I'm more than happy to overlook such shortcomings. After all, I was so engrossed that I finished the book in two sittings, finding it difficult to set aside. I'll be expecting a lot from upcoming installments (happily, there's no immediately obvious setup for a sequel), and it's great to see that the latest trend in children's book publishing is fiction that doesn't treat them like nincompoops. Dynamic protagonists, conflicted villains, a fully-realized world, and a steadfast determination to avoid taking the easy way out all contribute to a book that really makes the grade for youngsters and adults alike.
on January 24, 2010
I picked this up, I'll admit, because Director Peter Jackson, of The Lord of the Rings fame, has optioned this to be his next set of movies. I had to order it from three separate sellers, three different times before I could actually get it in the mail. (The Book Depository got it right on the second try.)
Writing this from the perspective of halfway through the third book, this book has a great deal to recommend it: sweeping in scope, it creates a unique true alternate universe in a tween book. That is where the similarity to Harry Potter ends, though.
There is a tradition in British children's fiction of introducing themes that are above grade level for children: the heroine in this has really bad facial scarring from a sword cleaving her face in two; the hero is part of a truly nasty Oliver-Twist-style London cast system; there are slaves who figure heavily in the plot of the first book.
That's probably why you've not heard of this particular series before; in other books of this sort, like Harry Potter and Eoin Colfer, there is a also a sense of home and place, a security of sorts--not here--these characters are out in the world as if they were adults. It takes a bit of getting past the, "You're eleven, but you're actually Indiana Jones," to really get into these books.
Having said all of that, this will make an amazing film: it has steampunk flying machines, Terminator/Frankenstein hybrid robots, and a lot of action. Unsurprisingly, that also makes it a well-worth-the-time-spent book.
If you are an American, this one is a little different--it's also a really big, really entertaining story. Highly recommended.
on May 24, 2007
Have you ever thought of what the future would be like? What would happen when humans reached the most technological devices they could, and with a lust for power so great they nearly eradicate all life on Earth? Well in Mortal Engines all that has happened, however here's one thing you might not have thought of, a world where cities, towns, villages, and other living areas can move and they hunt each other down to survive. I think this book was one of the best I have ever read. It had mystery, which is always good to me; it had cliffhangers and plenty of action throughout the entire book. There was not a chapter in Mortal Engines that did not have something important or dangerous happening.
This book was astonishing, and it was nearly impossible to set down. Every chapter there was some fast-paced, dangerous act, from fighting cyborgs to battles hundreds to thousands of miles in the air. I want to read another book written by Philip Reeves. He puts so much detailed information you can see the characters and objects in your mind as you read each page. I would recommend Mortal Engines to someone who enjoys fast-paced action, mystery, and the future. To truly understand this book you have to have a vast imagination, which can comprehend with things that may never happen.
on November 22, 2006
Mortal Engines is a book written by Philip Reeve it takes place in the future. On London when city's eat other city's towns villages and farms. Mortal Engines is about 3 main characters named Tom and Katherine and Hester. Hester tried killing Katherine's dad Mr. Valentine, but tom chased her and then she and tom were pushed out of London into a waste land called the out country, and on London the mayor is planning a sinister plot, and Katherine is the only person who knows that he is planning 1.
The main character Hester is always hatful she also has a huge scar on her face. She is also very clever and is very smart. Mr. Valentine killed her mom and dad. In addition she is very revengeful. Katherine another main character is very brave and smart. She is also very kind and is very cunning. Tom the other main character is a coward he is also very rude, but he is also very kind hearted.
The problem in the story is that Hester and tom most find a way to get back in London and kill Mr. Valentine and not be captured into slavery. The problem for Katherine is that she must figure out the mayor's plan and find a way to stop it. She thinks it's called MEDUSA and she knows it has something to do with her father. Also she wants to figure out Hester's identity. She also wanders what happened to tom when Hester and him left the city. She wonders if Tom is alive or dead.
My personal favorite part was when they used MEDUSA on a near by city to destroy it. I liked it because it was the most intense part because it could be seen all the way were Tom was. This is when the Anti-traction group knew that it was a threat. And when they used it Katherine was sure were it was. At this part everyone in London new about it and the mayor's plan. And it showed what the problem was.
If I were to rate this book I would give it 4 and a half star. It was very interesting and had a lot of betrayal. It was very suspenseful and was also a little violent. It was also somewhat boring when the characters were not doing anything in the middle.
on April 18, 2006
The Mortality of a City
This book is an excellent story of courage and nobility. This story demonstrates all the qualities that a good book should show. This book also brings out the deeper meanings of good and evil. It shows that what you are forced to believe may be a wrong and evil way.
The story of this book is unique unto itself. No other author has ever thought of a story that brings together the past and present so well. This book is like looking into a shattered mirror of the present world.
Long ago the cities of Europe started moving on great wheels to escape from horrible earthquakes. The landscape was destroyed by the legendary Sixty Second war. All borders and allies are destroyed, in fact the only technologies they have are dug up by archeologists. Now these cities are no longer needed but they keep moving because that is all they know.
The story opens in London. The city has found its prey and is coming down on its victims like a hawk. London has traveled in the mountains and is now making its way across the Great Hunting Grounds to an unknown errand. Tom, a third class apprentice in the Historians Guild has been forced to work in the Gut. The most boring duty he could ever be assigned. Oddly the chief historian Thaddeus Valentine and his daughter Katherine are there too. As everything seems normal, an assassin tries to kill Valentine. Tom realizes his opportunity to save Valentine's life. After learning the name of the assassin is Hester Shaw, Tom is thrown from the city with Hester for reasons he does not know. Together Tom and Hester must find a way to London to find the adventure that lies before them.
Over all, this entire book is a page turner. It is a book that I could not put down and it shows some very important lessons. It presents the meaning of good and evil and that all things on this planet are still mortal, even a city.
on October 21, 2003
I read the British copy of Mortal Engines when my aunt bought me a copy for Christmas, and read it in one night. It's that good. Reeve sucessfully introduces a brilliant world never seen in any type of novel before. This new type of sci-fi was an immediate attraction.
The book begins with a narrative on the great and powerful traction city (a city that has been put on wheels and is layered in tiers) London, chasing a smaller traction town. In a future day in age, the motto "it's a city eat city world" is a statement widely followed.
It is here in London, on the second tier that we meet the protagonist, Tom. Tom is a jubilant teenager, who was orphaned when his parents were killed in the "big tilt". An apprentice historian, Tom idolizes the famous "Valentine", London's hero and pretty coverboy. However, when he meets the assasine Hester Shaw, a character whose intriguing history and hate of traction cities is more than interesting, Tom's once dull life is hurled into a rapid cycle of betrayal, disbelief, and survival.
Pushed off of London, Tom is forced to trek across "the waste" with Hester, whose hard shell and clever wit helps them survive in numerous places. Forced on a journey together, with opposite purposes, Hester and Tom make their way, while things in London take an ugly turn. Their story is alternated with that of Katherine, Valentine's daughter, who still resides in London.
What i found msot intriguing about the ever twisting plotline was the mystery of what has happened to the world. Computer disks are regarded as "artifacts", and there are brief mentions of a possible world war. Statements come up in random places, like "I heard the Americans went quite insane in the end". And the ultimate power weapon, which blood has been spilt for, is a reconstructed nuclear weapon used by the "ancients". What is assumed to be Europe is a vast wasteland of mud and bare rock.
Over all, the amazing novelty of a world like this, where cities compete to keep on moving, immediately pulls the reader in. People who enjoy the book may be noted that the British version of Reeve's second installment in the series, Predator's Gold, can be ordered on Amazon UK.
on August 2, 2004
First of all ignore the fact that this book is generally found in the Children's section of most bookstores. Ignore any reservations you may have and enjoy it for what it is - a fantastical sci-fi adventure that once you start reading you can't put down. I read it in one sitting.
I won't go over the plot as it's been well documented by other reviewers. It's an interesting premise that freely borrows from literary fantasists like Jules Verne, Jack Vance, Phillip Pullman, and a bit of Rogue Trooper from 2000AD, but brings something new to the genre. Movies like Metropolis, Terminator, City of Lost Children and perhaps a bit of Waterworld and Mad Max are all referenced as well as bit of American rock.
The characters are believable and they have flaws. He's not brave, she's not beautiful and they probably won't live happily ever after - but you care about them. They deal with real issues like love, death, betrayal, retribution and courage. As has been said before bad things happen to nice people but that's life.
It's a shame that US reader can't enjoy the wonderful example of retro Boy's Own adventure art of the UK edition..but that's a minor grouse.
If I have a criticism it's that it's over too quickly. I've had a glimpse into this world and I want to know what happens to Tom and Hester - so I'm off to buy the sequel.
on January 27, 2004
I've read hundreds of books and a majority of them really good. Even though I don't have a favorite book I have three top favorite books and - This one's one of them. This book is great. Its in the far future but its not super hightech. What I really liked about this book is that it's set in the future but the technology in this time is all of its own. Its a comination of old levers and gears and robots-humans called Stalkers. Its great. The book takes place many years after the 60 minute war (how great is that!? A 60 MINUTE WAR). However there's one thing that makes these books better than any others. All the cities and towns and villages are on wheels. THey're called traction cities and the drive around barren Europe in search of prey - other cities to destroy and take their parts and sell the citizens as slaves for labor in other traction cities.
If the atmosphere of this book isn't what gets you to love it, it's the characters that will. The characters are so believabple, so in depth, so colorful, so deep - they're just amazing. And the author adds in so many secrets and hidden past about the characters - you'll love it. I highly recomend this book to anyone.