I forget where I heard about Mortal Engines, but reading the first line was enough to convince me I’d made the right choice.
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.
I was hooked from then on and the book charges onwards, barely stopping to take a breath before the end, not giving the reader a chance to get bored. It seems like a while since I’ve read a book I wanted to get back to.
The book is set several thousand years in the future, in a time after the “60-Minute War” in which humanity used its awesome weapons to destroy civilisation, and most of the planet. Not long after that, someone had the bright idea of putting cities onto huge platforms, carried on numerous sets of tracks and powered by giant engines. This brought into practice “Municipal Darwinism,” the idea of large cities eating smaller towns and cities for resources, kind of like a food chain based on size (the idea supposedly came from the way London is constantly expanding and consuming towns, turning them into suburbs).
Into this scene step Tom, Hester, Valentine and Katherine, amongst others. Valentine is London’s top historian, to most, but he’s actually a spy for the all-power ruler, the Lord Mayor. He found the parts of MEDUSA, a terrifying weapon created by the ancients, a weapon the Lord Mayor plans to use on the shield-wall, a wall that protects the static cities of the Anti-Traction League, who oppose the moving cities. Valentine killed Hester’s parents and maimed her, leaving her with one eye and hideous scars on her face, for that she wants revenge. Tom stops her first attempt (Valentine is a hero to the Third-Class Apprentice Historian), but Valentine tosses him overboard with Hester, just for hearing her name. That leaves Tom and Hester to team up, both of them want to get back onto London. Katherine, Valentine’s daughter, wonders who the girl was and why she would try to kill her father. As Tom and Hester are finding out how nasty Valentine really is, and just what danger their new-found friends at the Anti-Traction League are in, Katherine is uncovering the horrible truth about the Lord-Mayor’s plans, and her father’s part in it.
In terms of style, Mortal Engines reminds me of works by Rowling and, more closely, Pratchett, that same humour hiding the serious, the slight twist on reality to make it amusing. A lot of this humour comes from the interpretation of historical artifacts (“Old-tech”), but Reeve has a lot of fun with his character’s names.
I absolutely loved this, and will be seeking out the other three books that round out the quartet. Aside from being highly inventive, and having a rip-roaring tale, it’s packed with lively, entertaining and un-stereotyped characters, making it all the most fulfilling.