Review: Mortal Engines

Review: Mortal EnginesMortal Engines by Philip Reeve
Series: The Hungry City Chronicles #1
Published by HarperTeen on November 1, 2003
Genres: Adventure, Dystopian, Steampunk
Pages: 310
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

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 ... The great traction city london is on the move again. It has been lying low, skulking in the hills to avoid the bigger, faster, hungrier cities loose in the Great Hunting Ground. But now, as its great mountain of metal lumbers along in hot pursuit of its quarry, the sinister plans it has harbored for years can finally start to unfold behind its soaring walls ...

Thaddeus Valentine, London's Head Historian and most famous archaeologist, and his daughter, Katherine, are down in The Gut when the young assassin with the black scarf strikes. Only the quick intervention of Tom, a lowly third-class apprentice, prevents Valentine from being stabbed in the heart. Madly racing after the fleeing girl, Tom suddenly glimpses her hideous face: scarred from forehead to jaw, nose a smashed stump, a single eye glaring back at him. "Look at what your Valentine did to me!" she screams. "Ask him! Ask him what he did to Hester Shaw!" And with that she jumps down the waste chute to her death. Minutes later Tom finds himself tumbling down the same chute and stranded in the Out-Country, a sea of mud scored by the huge caterpillar tracks of cities like the one now steaming off over the horizon.

In a stunning literary debut, Philip Reeve has created an unforgettable adventure story set in a dark and utterly original world fueled by Municipal Darwinism -- and betrayal.

Mortal Engines, though I was not aware beforehand, is actually a dystopian novel. In fact, there are a couple of disparate dystopian levels to the book. On the one hand, there are the many references to the downfall of America, which, unsurprisingly, sought to take everyone else with it through the use of insanely stupid and dangerous weapons. The way the world worked back then all changed with something called the Sixty Minutes War (how long does war really need to last with some of the weapons people are now capable of making?).

In addition to the apocalyptic nature of that downfall of one set of civilizations, the era of traction cities is not doing so well. Prey is running low and the mayor of London has all sorts of big, bad ideas. The Mayor, Crome, is a Machiavellian figure who has a major personality cult in effect and does absolutely terrible things to any people deemed unimportant to society.

Despite this depressing setting, the book is actually quite funny in a lot of parts. The humor is well done (although I could have done without some of the scatalogical scenes). One really awesome element was reading about the Museum, which, of course, contained items from the life we live today (Very prominent is the skeleton of a blue whale). The book definitely gets more depressing toward the end and (warning!) some characters do not survive.

Recommended! My favorite thing about this book: the last two sentences (although I also appreciate that the ugly girl is not judged solely by her appearance). I think they set the tone and conclude the first novel in the series perfectly. I will not repeat them here, because you should go read the book and find out for yourself!

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