Fever Crumb is an orphan raised by engineer Gideon Crumb in London. As the only girl in the Order of Engineers, a group that spurns emotions and pleasure as the two lead to irrational behavior, Fever works hard to follow the rules. When she is sent to assist an archeologist, Kit Solvent, it sets in motion a plot to kill her thinking she is a Shriven, or nonhuman. The fanatical Bagman Creech who led the previous riots that overturned the Shriven with commoners committing genocide makes for a fascinating character study. Creech believes in what he does and feels it is right. He doesn't see Shriven as humans because of the spots on their skin. This could launch discussions on fanaticism and terrorism. The Shriven were an elitist group that held all the power and money while oppressing the Londoners. As Fever works with Kit, the scents and sights trigger memories that she can't understand. As Creech chases after her and threatens those she cares about, she finds out more about herself and her odd background that makes for an action-packed story.
Philip Reeve loves to play with words. The dictator's name is Auric Godshawk. He has an aura about him and likes to play God while preying on the dead. Bert Atkinson is spelled, Bert @kinson. The villain curses, "That's a load of blog," or "you great soft blogger," are an interesting look at how the world has changed in the future. The Internet no longer exists but the words reflect the past, but are used different. Reeve's play on words is constant. My favorite was "technomancer" or "technomancy" like "necromancer" or "necromancy." The person with that title was the one that brought dead men to life using technology. He also describes technology without using the word so it was fun guessing what was braces, or tanks, or cars, or hovercrafts were when they are introduced in the story.
Fever begins as a young girl that is dependent on Gideon and happy to be home with him. When she gets her first assignment she is scared and doesn't want to go, but because she is an engineer she has learned to ignore her emotions. She shaves her head like all the other engineers so she is not distracted by pleasures or vanity and feels safe within the rigid order of life at the Engineerium. It isn't until she meets Kit who acts as her foil, that she starts to think for herself and become independent. At the end when she questions the cruel intentions of people using machines, it shows a girl who is becoming her own self. She considers the ethical issues of creating Stalkers who at times show the conscience of their former self and go "mad." She feels that the practice is morally wrong and requires more research.
The floating barge is run literally by slaves on treads. The politics shows different factions trying to take control with one person succeeding at the end. The end has the next ruler of London being bent toward an aristocratic government and a colonization of other cities that is similar to the British Empire. This sets up for the Hungry City Chronicles government that seems to be more of a plutocracy, but is driven to colonize others as the world becomes depleted of natural resources. Some terrific twists and turns make this story original, memorable, and the questions left at the end will have me scrambling for book 2 when it is released for publication.