Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve


This is an innovative and well-written young adult book, set in an original alternate future where there is no electronic technology and the world is based on mechanical instruments and machines. The reader is led to believe that this is our world after a cataclysmic war or event. A wonderfully original civilisation has evolved where vast, mechanical traction cities prowl the land and static settlements are rare and endangered. The future’s here and the future’s mobile. The world is based on the priniciples of Municipal Darwinism – throughout the Hunting Grounds, larger predatory cities prowl, swallowing up unwary smaller conurbations, cheered on by their population from viewing decks as their great jaws entrap and dismantle their unfortunate prey.
All is not tranquil and compliant in this world, however. The all-reaching tenets of Municipal Darwinism are not welcomed with open arms and the revolutionary Anti-Traction League, from their base in the static cities of the East, wage a war of underground resistance and subterfuge, fighting to destroy the evil exemplified by the traction cities. It is in front of this backdrop that the reader is taken on a great adventure, filled with action and treachery, as Tom Natsworthy, a young apprentice historian from the great traction city of London and the scarred and damaged Hester Shaw, a city-less loner on a quest for revenge, are thrown together by circumstance and necessity.

This is a great book. Reeve quickly draws the reader into a world of intrigue, of revolutionary plots and diabolical schemes, of treachery, adventure and bravery. He skilfully creates a world that is both familiar and alien, futuristic yet archaic. You will be disturbed by the eerie stalkers, the Resurrected Men. You will be inspired by the magic of Airhaven. It is an evocative novel, like Indiana Jones in another age, with archaeological finds pieces of our modern world. Reeve mixes cultures in a way that is reminiscent of Blade Runner or William Gibson. The traction cities are living characters themselves.

What sets this apart, to a degree, from other young adult books is not just this vibrant world but the fact that Hester Shaw is more of an anti-heroine. She is self-serving, without empathy, controlling to the point of treachery and utterly dishonest as long as it achieves her goal. She is a damaged child and her history makes her quite ruthless.

I would certainly recommend the whole series (this is the first of four books) for younger readers and adults who haven’t lost the ability to be absorbed by the magic of an almost tangible future world, strange and beautiful, alien and exciting, a world that captures the imagination. It’s the kind of book I would have loved to have had read aloud to me as a child and that would have absorbed me as a teenager.


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