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Friday, 17 October 2014

FFB - Mortal Engines

Mortal Engines (2003) is the first in the Hungry City Chronicles, a series of four books by Philip Reeve. Aimed at teenagers, it’s a good read for adults too; an action-packed adventure which oozes originality. 

Over a thousand years in our future, when the earth has virtually been ruined following a very brief but devastating conflict, the Sixty Minute War, the seas are dry and many cities and towns have evolved into mobile fortresses. 

It’s a town eat town kind of world – all to do with Municipal Darwinism, where big powerful towns and cities attack weaker ones and utilise the building materials for fuel and ransack antiques and artwork for their museums and capture people for slaving in the engine-rooms.  And London is on the prowl, it seems, heading into the dangerous hunting grounds...

Apprentice Tom Natsworthy manages to thwart an attempt on his hero Valentine’s life but is repaid by betrayal and is cast out of the city, into the treacherous Out-country, with only the would-be assassin Hester Shaw for company.  A fragile friendship develops between them and they are picked up by a wandering town and imprisoned, to be sold as slaves... 

Their adventures are daunting and exciting, with plenty of chapter-end cliff-hangers. 

In opposition to the marauding towns and cities is the Anti-Traction League who have spies everywhere.  Then there are the air-pirates and their balloon craft.  To make matters worse, searching for Hester is the Resurrected Man, Shrike, mostly metal and virtually indestructible. 

The descriptions of the cities and towns, the forbidding environment and the marvellous individual characters make reading this book a joy.  There are heroes and villains and even the bit-players are sketched-in sympathetically. The grimness of the bowels of London city – with its turd tanks, the colours of the airbase Airhaven and the multi-national pirates, the magnificence of the scenery viewed from the air, all combine to present a visual feast just crying out for a movie.

Then there’s the pirate town of Tunbridge Wheels.  The Mayor of this town, Chrysler Peavey, is a fascinating character who only wants to better himself – and have an easy life at others’ expense, of course...

And hovering in the background is the mystery of MEDUSA and the dreadful power that London’s mad mayor is about to unleash...  The ending was satisfying and sad and made me want to buy the next adventure straight away!
The full series is:

Mortal Engines
Predator’s Gold
Infernal Devices
A Darkling Plain

Reeve was thirty-seven when this first book was published and he’d been writing since he was five. Never give up; keep writing!


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