Mortal Engines Review
If you are looking for a quick jaunt into a futuristic steampunk-esque world that is definitely dystopian in its delivery, then go for it.
Author: Philip Reeve
Now, this is an interesting prospect. This is a futuristic look at the world, a world where cities are on wheels, and they eat each other. Nope, not kidding. The world as we know it has changed drastically, been through several wars and cities are now mounted on wheels, always moving, as to remain static is to die out. Technology has changed, in some respects it has gone backwards, in others it has jumped forwards. In this world, movement is key, and those who oppose it are known as anti-tractionists. London is vast, sprawling, and towering above the ground, with the city broken up into different levels. The rest of the world is known as the Hunting Ground, and cities fight to get prey; smaller cities. A chase is incredibly exciting, the city or town that is consumed is stripped for parts, its people enslaved, the dead are recycled, and London becomes stronger. However, prey has started to become scarce, and it is looking as though London needs to start hunting bigger cities in order to survive. So the government decides to bring a certain project to bear, in order that it can journey to a bigger Hunting Ground, and find bigger prey.
This book follows the story of Tom, an orphaned fifteen year old apprentice historian who dreams of making massive archaeological discoveries like his hero Thaddeus Valentine. He is fortunate enough to meet with his hero and his beautiful daughter Katherine in the Gut of London city when the city has just eaten a smaller one and is ripping it apart for salvage. However, they are interrupted when a badly scarred girl tries to kill Valentine. In an attempt to be a hero in front of his own hero, Tom chases after the girl and just before she jumps from the exhaust chute of the city to escape, he finds out her name is Hester Shaw. When Valentine catches up with him, Tom tells him this information, and finds himself falling from the city onto the ground below. Surely his hero didn’t push him from the pipe? Or perhaps Valentine is not all he seems. Perhaps Hester Shaw holds incredibly important information about the city and the before-time. The pair join up reluctantly on both parts, and try to head back to London for different reasons, Tom because he wants to get home, wants to prove that Valentine is still a hero, Hester because she still wants to kill Valentine. They are stalked by Shrike, a terrifying creature that is part man, part cyborg. They come across pirates, teach them manners, fly airships, run into anti-tractionists and learn a great deal on the way about themselves and the world that they live in.
The narrative is quite simplistic and very easy to read, you could argue that it is a bit too easy. Some of the characters are a bit two dimensional, Valentine’s daughter Katherine especially. Valentine himself is also not a very interesting hero/non-hero, and Tom is a bit dim sometimes. He is very stuck in his ways, unwilling to see things from another persons point of view. As is to be expected, he’s changed by the end of the text. Hester is perhaps the most interesting character in the book, but she is consumed by hate and incredibly single minded, the only thing she can focus on is killing Valentine. She softens ever so slightly while she is journeying with Tom, but you still don’t really gain a sense of her as she is so wrapped up with hate. She is cynical, unlikeable to a point until the very end of the book and I struggled to engage with her.
The text moves along swiftly, meaning that if you are looking for a quick jaunt into a futuristic steampunk-esque world that is definitely dystopian in its delivery, then go for it.
In conclusion, I had high hopes for this book. I’d seen it knocking around in the media, it was usually on the ends of shelves being promoted, and I decided to give it a go. The edition I have has awesome blue pages as well, so you know, bonus! However, I feel like this has been watered down for the children’s market. There is nothing wrong with giving kids/young adults something tightly plotted, fast paced and exciting, there is nothing wrong with giving them a book to make them think. This book tries to do that. It does try, and it is an interesting concept. But when you have things like His Dark Materials trilogy, which crosses the border between children’s, young adult and adult fiction marvellously, Mortal Engines falls a bit flat. It’s the type of book that you’d give to an 8 year old reluctant reader in the hope that they’d enjoy it and move on to the good stuff that fiction has to offer. For that reason I’m giving it 5.5/10. It’s not bad, it’s diverting, it’ll give you something to think about, but won’t make a lasting impression.
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