Read Recently — Mortal Engines

Mortal Engines: a novel: the Hungry City Chronicles by Philip Reeve

Sometimes all it takes to get me to buy a book is a really interesting idea, and this story provides one. Consider the following opening line: “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’s the distant future. There was a war, and the world has been changed. “Traction Cities” roam the world, preying on each other, devouring smaller cities for parts and new citizens. A kind of neo-Victorian society has grown up. Our hero is Tom Natsworthy, an orphan and apprentice historian, dusting displays in the London Museum. When he abandons his post to go watch the capture of the mining town and gets into a fight with another apprentice, he is assigned to punishment duty in the “guts”, the lowest part of the city, where the town is being dismembered. He is to look for anything of historical value for the museum. The senior member of the guild already there when he arrives is, in fact, the head of the Guild: Thaddeus Valentine, historian, scavenger, adventurer, the one man Tom would love to impress more than anyone else. At least until he meets Valentine’s beautiful daughter, Katherine, and her pet wolf, Dog (she was really young when she received the animal and didn’t know what a wolf was).

Then Tom gets his chance to be impressive: as Valentine approaches a group of scavengers picked up from the the mining town one of them, a girl hiding her face behind a scarf, pulls out a knife and tries to kill him! Tom knocks her arm aside, and then pursues her into the machinery–finally getting to see her face, scarred as though by a knife or sword, just before she dives down a disposal tube (he also learns that her name is Hester Shaw). When Valentine catches up, and learns what Tom has seen and learned, he apologizes and knocks Tom down the chute himself! Tom is left alone on the bare earth with the murderous (and very angry) Hester.

Mind you, we don’t abandon London, even as Tom and Hester trek their way back towards it (and it heads away from them at great speed). Katherine Valentine does not know what her father did to Tom, but she is concerned with what the Lord Mayor is up to that has her father hopping . . . but indeed, the Lord Mayor has some sort of plan that has London racing across the Hunting Ground that is the North Sea, and Thaddeus Valentine is at the center of it.

Consider also this line, the opening of Chapter 13 (included just cause I think it’s cool):” In the dark ages before the dawn of the Traction Era, nomad empires had battled each other across the volcano maze of Europe.”

So: will Katherine solve the mystery of the Lord Mayor’s plans (what is MEDUSA)? Will she (and Tom) learn why Hester tried to kill Valentine? Will Tom and Hester survive the bare earth, and escape from the relentless Resurrected Man, Grike? And what will happen to them in the pirate suburb of Tunbridge Wheels? And what of the Anti-Traction League, with their static cities and great fleet of airships? Will Municipal Darwinism conquer all?

This is a great book, and highly recommended. I’d love to see Miyazaki adapt it.


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