Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve (2001)
You'll need to familiarise yourself with the theory of Municipal Darwinism for this brilliant book. The first thing you need to know is that it is a town eat town world, out there in the Great Hunting Ground:
The little town was so close that he could see the ant-like shapes of people running about on its upper tiers. How frightened they must be, with London bearing down on them and nowhere to hide! But he knew he mustn't feel sorry for them: it was natural that cities ate towns, just as the towns ate smaller towns, and smaller towns snapped up the miserable static settlements. That was Municipal Darwinism, and it was the way the world had worked for a thousand years, ever since the great engineer Nikolas Quirke had turned London into the first Traction City. "London! London!" he shouted, adding his voice to the cheers and shouts of everybody else on the platform, and a moment later they were rewarded by the sight of one of Salthook's wheels breaking loose. The town slewed to a halt, smokestacks snapping off and crashing down into the panicked streets, and then London's lower tiers blocked it from view and Tom felt the deck-plates shiver as the city's huge hydraulic Jaws came slamming shut.
Now, it may be a vast, sophisticated city, but London is cobbled together from bits of scrap metal and Old-Tech. Some of the scavenged Old-Tech goes straight to the Guild of Historians to be preserved, and some goes to the powerful Guild of Engineers. Sometimes the Engineers can work out how to recreate the old technology from their bits and pieces, and sometimes they can't.
This story is about what happens when Valentine the Explorer brings back to London a malignant piece of Old-Tech, known as Medusa. The thing is, if London really proposes to recreate an ancient weapon of mass destruction, then mass destruction is going to be one of the inevitable consequences. So Valentine finds he has quite a few enemies. For a start, there is the grossly disfigured Hester Shaw, whose parents he killed in his quest to obtain possession of Medusa:
A terrible scar ran down her face from forehead to jaw, making it look like a portrait that had been furiously crossed out. Her mouth was wrenched sideways in a permanent sneer, her nose was a smashed stump and her single eye stared at him out of the wreckage, as grey and chill as a winter sea.
And there is Tom, Third Class Apprentice of the Guild of Historians. He just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Valentine pushes him down the waste chute after Hester Shaw because he fears he knows too much about Hester Shaw. But neither Tom nor Hester Shaw are killed by their fall down the waste chute. They land in the soft mud of the Out-Country, and so begins an uneasy alliance, which gradually firms up into friendship, and even something more.
There's a lot about loyalty and trust in this wild and dangerous story. You might find the landscape of massive, trundling cities faintly amusing, but if you happen to turn round and look behind you while you are reading, you will see the dead bodies piling up at an alarming rate! Highly enjoyable! Highly recommended!
What can I read next?
A brilliant first book, and now there is an equally brilliant sequel:
If you enjoy Mortal Engines, you might like to look at the trilogy by William Nicholson known as The Wind On Fire. In the first volume you will come across massive land-sailing towns, rather like Philip Reeve's traction cities:
If the themes of loyalty and betrayal catch your imagination in Mortal Engines, you might like to look at this one by Robin Jarvis:
The real point about Mortal Engines is that the story is set in a fantasy landscape but played out by people with real emotions. So, you might like to look at something by J R R Tolkien:
Or you could have a look at Philip Pullman's trilogy known as His Dark Materials:
Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:
- Sabriel by Garth Nix (Score: 93%)
- The Beguilers by Kate Thompson (Score: 93%)
- Abhorsen by Garth Nix (Score: 93%)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (Score: 96%)
- Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel (Score: 89%)
Mortal Engines features in these lists: