MORTAL ENGINES launched Philip Reeve's brilliantly-imagined creation, the world of the Traction Era, where mobile cities fight for survival in a post-apocalyptic future. The first instalment introduces young apprentice Tom Natsworthy and the murderous Hester Shaw, flung from the fast-moving city of London into heart-stopping adventures in the wastelands of the Great Hunting Ground.
When “Steampunk” first arrived on the literary scene, I kind of missed it and this book has always been on my “to read” list. Having recently read The Poison Boy by Fletcher Moss, I discovered that Mortal Engines was a big influence on Moss. So I sought out the title.
And boy, is the book ambitious. The very idea of cities hunting each other in a steampunk future is so fantastic it deserves praise for bravery alone. The landscape of the novel, and the people, worlds and machines which inhabit it are effortlessly depicted and real. But I think I would have been more blown away by the book if I’d read it when it was first published because by now, the whole genre has become a little tired. But that is no fault of Reeve’s.
The main character of the book is Tom, who is pushed off the moving traction-city of London when he gets in the way of the city’s hero, Valentine. In the vast and dead plains of the Great Hunting Ground he meets a girl called Hester Shaw whose face was mutilated by Valentine. Her quest is to kill the man that deformed her and murdered her parents. Together, Tom and Hester make their way back to London and encounter many wild and wonderful places, people and adventures along the way.
The pairing of these two characters is interesting because Tom is a fan of moving cities and London’s hero, Valentine. But Hester is not. And it is this dynamic between them which makes their relationship interesting. Tom is drawn to Hester because of her secrets but also kind of repulsed by her deformity. And indeed, Hester uses her scarred face as a wedge to keep Tom at bay.
The pace of the book is unrelenting, skipping from scene to scene with the breathless effortlessness of a well-made Hollywood blockbuster. The text is always precise with not a word is ever wasted, and each scene ends in such a hook that the reader cannot but continue to read.
If I wasn’t a writer I probably wouldn’t have noticed the constantly changing point-of-view, but I am a writer so I did notice it, and I found it a bit jarring.
For this reason, and because I am a little tired of steampunk, I give this book 4 stars out of 5. A must though, for fans of fantasy, action and adventure.