Sunday, July 11, 2010

Mortal Engines

This first book in Philip Reeve's Hungry City Chronicles features a futuristic England in which society has embraced the philosophy of "Municipal Darwinism." The cities (and towns) have become mobile. They are enormous, lumbering machines that move across the devastated landscape, gobbling up smaller, weaker towns and villages smaller, stealing their resources and enslaving their people. Municipal Darwin is accepted and upheld by the government, so that when London chases a smaller village, its citizens stand on the upper decks of the city, cheering it on, and when they capture their quarry, it becomes a day of celebration.

Fifteen-year-old Tom, orphan and apprentice to the guild of Historians, lives in London, and he has never questioned the way things work. Not, that is, until the day when a mysterious girl attempts to kill London's Head Historian, and Tom intervenes, saving the famous historian's life. Tom finds himself in the Out-Country, the wasteland traversed by the traveling cities and towns, in the company of the would-be assassin, flung into a world with a harsh reality that challenges his previous assumptions.

Meanwhile in the city of London, Katherine, the daughter of the Head Historian, is curious about the girl who attacked her father. Her investigations point her in the direction of a mysterious item known simply as Medusa - an item that, it appears, connects her father with the young woman who attacked him. Katherine enlists the help of a young apprentice engineer named Bevis to help her learn more about Medusa. A rip-roaring adventure follows, for all the above characters, involving floating cities, cyborg assassins, secret agents, and weapons of mass destruction.

Having read (and adored) Philip Reeve's Larklight series, I was curious to read this, his debut novel. And while it lacks much of the tongue-in-cheek humor of Larklight and its sequels, as it is quite a bit darker, it does have lighter moments that relieve the tension and darkness. This book is for an older audience (my library shelves it in the YA section), and it packs some heavy punches. No one is safe, much is at stake, and the consequences of failure are dire. I'd recommend this to fans of The Hunger Games and Airborne. It is a taut, fast-paced adventure story with a touch of romance and characters who are well-drawn and memorable. This is not a world I'd have the least desire to visit, but it is a fascinating one, complex and full of surprises. I look forward to reading the next book in this gripping adventure series.

Books in the Hungry City Chronicles:

1. Mortal Engines
2. Predator's Gold
3. Infernal Devices
4. A Darkling Plain
5. Fever Crumb
6. A Web of Air

Mortal Engines (#1 in the Hungry City Chronicles) by Philip Reeve (Eos, 2001)

Also reviewed at:
All Lit Up: "If I have made the book sound terribly depressing, however, that is far from the truth; there are many instances of genuine humour in Mortal Engines, and it is a testament to Reeve’s skill as a writer that he often juxtaposes these moments with some of the darkest moments in the story. "
Becky's Book Reviews: "It's a fast-paced, sci-fi adventure with danger and mystery and the slightest smidgen of romance."
Fantastic Reads: "This is a definite page turner, almost impossible to put down."


  1. I found these hard going, but they are very popular with my fantasy fans!

  2. They are pretty dark, and not nearly as fun and swashbuckly as the Larklight books. Have you read any of those? But I'm glad to hear they have a following at your school!

  3. Normally social Darwinism (i.e. the society that can kill the other societies is the best) sets my teeth on edge like nobody's business, but turning it on its head so that the cities actually are independent actors is really clever, has definitely caught my interest. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention!

  4. Fyrefly - Oh, it really takes social Darwinism to task, and in a most memorable way. I'd love to hear your take on this one, if you do end up reading it!


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