Book review: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

This is quite an old one; published in 2001 I believe, and it completely passed me by. I probably would’ve carried on walking past it in the book shop if not for the fact that Peter Jackson has made it into a movie (set for a December 2018 release). Saw the trailer, bought the book … and read it in about a day.

Thousands of years after a war that lasted just sixty minutes, the survivors of humanity wander the plains of Europe and Asia in Traction Cities: remnants of the post-war metropolises mounted on massive (and I do mean MASSIVE) engines. The Traction Cities ‘hunt’ smaller towns, stripping them down for fuel and parts and enslaving their population. I’ve posted the film trailer, which’ll give you an idea of how it works.

Not only do I love the concept, I love the way the story is told. It’s aimed at young adults, but it’s told in a simple literary style that manages to focus heavily on the characters without losing the connection to the surrounding action. The scene setting is brilliant; in fact I was hooked when I read the first paragraph, and the quality of the piece runs through right to the last page.

The story itself is sort of a Lord of the Rings meets Steampunk, with elements of Pratchett humour thrown in for good measure. It’s a journey across a vast, nightmare of a world, where people are set against one another just to survive. The most curious aspect of the book is the high-level view of the cities: scurrying around the Hunting Ground, devouring prey and then moving on to fresh fields when the food supply is  exhausted; from this view, the cities become animals, and this is a brilliant way to illustrate that thousands of years from now, it’s a dog eat dog world. Probably the most original example of “show don’t tell” I’ve ever seen.

Well, the book is great, so I can’t wait to see what Peter Jackson’s crew has done with the movie.

Ten out of ten.

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