Friday, 28 June 2013

Mortal Engines : A steampunk novel series.

Well, this was all a bit of an accident.

I stumbled on the book title while researching steampunk novels. You see, since finishing Martin's 'A Game of Thrones' and Robin Hobbs' first Farseer series, I'd been in a bit of a book lull. Casting around the interweb, I'd thought I'd read some of this new/oldfangled thing called steampunk. I was curious. I liked the Philip Pullman 'His Dark Materials' series - a bit steampunky. I like the Dystopian Legions figures (and got some). I like Warmachine. So ... what else was out there?

And when I say stumble upon I literally stumbled upon the first in the series of Phillip Reeve's 'Mortal Engines', just lying about. I think one of my boys must have read it at some point. Having seen it mentioned, I flicked it open and started to read...

Immediately sucked in.

While there may be a very valid claim that these are 'kids books' - and I can't really dispute that description - just like Pullman and Tolkien’s 'The Hobbit', there is a charm and allure about these novels which is beyond merely children's fiction. The characters are vivid and engaging, the locations threatening and sinister, and the events are dramatic, tense and frequently sombre.

I'll try not to spoil too much.

P.S. Respect to the chapter titles...

Tom Natsworthy works on London. On London because it's a moving city. Cities move in this time - thousands (how many?) of years in the future after war has ended civilisation as we know it now. But how do these cities survive? By 'eating' other cities, after all that's what Municipal Darwinism means. Swallowing other cities to take what is needed to keep your city going. But then there are the anti-tractionists who live in static settlements at war with the moving predatory mechanical conurbations. There are the icy wastes where Anchorage roams and the hidden city under the sea where the Lost Boys creep out.

But this is merely (almost apocalyptically?) a back drop. The lives of the characters - at first Tom, then troubled Hester then Valentine, Shrike the dead mechanical soldier and so on - all come into focus over the course of the four novels. And in time moves on... the story evolves. The history rolls forward, the narrative expands. More characters, stranger locations. But all held together with a desperate desire to hold on to life – and love.

But I could give too much away.

This series is highly recommended – at least by me. It’s not just children’s fiction. Reeve’s skill, compared to other novels I’ve read in the steampunk genre, is that he doesn’t try too hard. There aren’t endless explanations about the backward steampunk technology. Or overwritten dramatic moments which have a movie script in mind. The novels have a very human and frequently, tragic thread. Everything isn’t always alright. Pain hurts. Tension is unpleasant. People are scarred.

But then there’s the power of human experience and the strength of the connections you make with one other.

I was sold.


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