Mortal Engines, Philip Reeve

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“You aren’t a hero and I’m not beautiful and we probably won’t live happily ever after ” she said. “But we’re alive and together and we’re going to be all right.” 

The great traction city London has been skulking in the hills to avoid the bigger, faster, hungrier cities loose in the Great Hunting Ground. But now, the sinister plans of Lord Mayor Mangus Crome can finally unfold.

* * * *
4 / 5

I read this book because of the film, which I have not yet seen. I did see the trailer with the moving cities and I thought to myself “dang, that’s a pretty cool idea” so I borrowed Mortal Engines from my local library. I debated in my head whether this was a three or four star read because on the one hand the tone and language of the book seemed relatively young but there was a lot of dead characters by the end, which seemed a little incongruous, the “villains” were archetypal, and the pacing seemed a little off. BUT, the whole concept was amazingly original, the characters were fun (even if Hester is strong and silent one page and sobbing the next), and I read the whole thing in a three hour stint.

It’s a town-eat-town world out there. Literally. Towns are on wheels and ruled by the concept of Municipal Darwinism: the strong towns eat the weak ones, adopt (or kill) their citizens, and tear up their parts to make use of. London has waddled back to the Hunting Ground after years away but the prey has all but dried up. So why are they there? And what does the Anti-Traction League (those that think towns should stay in one place) have to do with it? It’s bizarre, it’s original, and this town-rolling-eating premise is absolutely the best thing about this book!

Tom Natsworthy is an orphaned apprentice in the Guild of Historians. He’s young, easily impressionable, and overly idealistic. His life takes a turn for the worse when his hero, the renowned archaeologist Valentine, pushes him off of London. Damn. So Tom teams up with the sullen and heavily scarred (though not in the film, in another case of casting women in the film who look nothing like the book character…) Hester Shaw, who is gunning for revenge after Valentine murdered her parents. Chasing them is a robotic killing machine, some slavers, some pirates, and all Tom wants is to go home and continue his apprenticeship.

This is, fundamentally, a book for kids. Probably twelve to thirteen year olds. Because of that the villains are a bit flat, it’s a little bit predictable, and there’s not as much explanation or moral exploration as I would like. But as an adult in her early twenties, this was a damn fun book and I reckon it will make an excellent film, if it’s been done right.

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