I first read Mortal Engines (and the three follow-up novels that make the Mortal Engines Quartet) by Philip Reeve, about ten years ago. They catapulted to the top of my list of favorite Science Fiction series. I’ve been meaning to reread at the very least Mortal Engines for some time, and with all the recent talk of the film adaptation from Peter Jackson and Co., I thought now’s as good a time as any.
With Mortal Engines, we are thrust into the far, far future where the world has been reshaped by war, ecological disaster, and continued strife. Sometime in the distant past (still our far future), London began a movement of movement, where cities became giant rolling things, chasing and devouring anyone and anything they could. Europe became a wasteland of picked over mud and death. Tom is a young man from London, excited as anyone that the old city is returning to the Great Hunting Grounds. Things don’t go as planned and the novel’s adventure is off and running. Tom gets mixed up with the beautiful Katherine, her dashing father, the adventurer Valentine, the spy and aviatrix Anna Fang, and with the horribly mutilated Hester Shaw, a phantom with a lust for revenge.
Stories personal and world spanning are woven together as London rolls toward a bastion of Anti-Tractionists. And in the best traditions, nobody is really safe. Even in victory, losses can be great. Characters die, and sometimes they’re characters you really like.
There are some oddities about the books. They were released in the States as The Hungry City Chronicles. And one of the major characters was renamed Grike instead of the original Shrike. Also, Reeve plays with tense in a few scenes, and I have a strong aversion to present tense in fiction. But none of these things stop the book from being awesome.
I’ve got some other books on my to-read list, but I think I’ll be re-reading the rest of the quartet soon. I suspect, once the trailer for the film hits, a lot of other folks will be joining me. In the meantime, if you haven’t read Philip Reeve, get out there and do it. Larklight is a great kid friendly adventure in the vein of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. Railhead is some wild Science Fiction. Here Lies Arthur is a surprising take on the classic legend. Just make sure you read The Mortal Engines Quartet, while you’re at it. It stands side by side with classics of the genre, like Andre Norton at her best. I could definitely see this being published by Ace back in the 60s.