Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Book 11 of 2014: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

It seems like so long since I read this now, considering I’ve not only completed my course now but also my whole degree. When I was about ready to start my final block of my course I got all of the books I needed ordered and then just read them before I started the block. Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve was the first one to arrive, so I got stuck into it right away.

Mortal Engines is the first in a series of books set in a distant future where the world has been half destroyed following a war. Now most of the descendants of the survivors live in ‘traction cities’ that is, cities and towns that are able to move around, taking over smaller habitations, enslaving their inhabitants and using the structures as fuel or to add to their own. The story follows several teens; Tom who is a young apprentice who meets his idol, discovers he is not such a good guy after all, and then falls off the city of London; Hester who is a girl on a mission to get revenge for her parents’ deaths; and Katherine who hero worships her father but gradually comes to question her way of life and her father’s job.

Gradually the three strands all weave themselves together along with those of others as the Anti-traction League attempts to rise up against the traction cities. There's a degree of social commentary involved here as well, Reeve seems to be speaking out about the spread of cities, there's a hint of concern for the environment as well as a great deal of questioning the blind following of leaders.

I really enjoyed this. At first I wasn’t entirely sure that I would but there was something quite compelling about the opening:

It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.

It really does draw you in and I had to keep reading to figure out just exactly what was going on here. To begin with I wasn’t sure what to expect from the story because I’d not really read much about the book before I got started. It didn’t take long to get sucked in though it did take me a little while to actually get through it. This was partly because there were little breaks in the text which meant it was a little too easy to stop reading at the end of the day.

One of the things that I did quite like about the book was the fact that no one was safe. Seriously, anyone can (and does) die. It’s not something that’s so common in children’s books, or even in adults’ books either come to think of it; frequently people get into dangerous, near death situations only to recover or be saved at the last minute. Not so in Mortal Engines.

I’m not normally too bothered when people die in books. I’m usually a wee bit disappointed, especially if they’re a character I actually like, but I’m rarely too upset. There was one character in this book who’s death devastated me. Spoiler alert, highlight to read: when Dog dies I was really upset. I read it a couple of times trying to give myself hope that what I thought had happened, hadn’t in fact happened, when Katherine herself dies and is reunited with him, well, that about broke me. End of spoiler.

I really loved the way that Reeve played with names. Many of the names of towns and cities had been twisted to make them fit into the landscape of the traction cities; places like Tunbridge Wheels. I can’t help but wonder how many of those names children would actually get, unless they were familiar with the places, but for an adult reading the book it was very amusing.

I didn’t realise at first that this is the first in a series. I would definitely like to know more about Tom and Hester’s adventures. I’ll watch out for them and I’ll revisit this book when I’m ready to read the others.

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