Monday, March 30, 2015

Predator Cities #1: Mortal Engines (The Hungry City Chronicles #1) by Philip Reeve

I just finished the prequel called, "Fever Crumb" by Philip Reeve. This book gave me a better understanding of the steampunk world and its government as the world building in this story is more complete. Earth is running out of resources and a man named, Nikola Quercus, designed a machine hundreds of years ago from a floating barge that became a huge city on tread wheels known as a "traction city." Traction cities have become more complex over the years with large machines running the huge treads and the city tiered on top versus slaves on the treads and a barge on top in Nikola's original design. These traction cities originally helped people avoid natural disasters. In the current setting the machines consume other cities as a survival of the fittest; a practice called, Municipal Darwinism.

The setting is on one of the largest and most powerful traction cities called, London, that is run by four Guilds. The gap between the rich and the poor in this autocracy means that the haves and the have-nots are at odds with each other as one group oppresses the other. Even the tier-shaped levels of the city represents the social classes with the wealthy at the top and the poor closer to the pollution and noise of the engines at the bottom. The Anti-Tractionist League is against Municipal Darwinism as the Earth becomes more stable. The two groups are fighting each other as the League tries to restore resources and London continues to wantonly consume all in its path. Tom Natsworthy, is an Apprentice Historian who lives in London, that gets swept up in a plot by a scar-faced girl, Hester Shaw, who is trying to kill an important hero to the city, Thaddeus Valentine. When Tom discovers Valentine's dark past he must make the moral decision of choosing sides in the war between both groups.

Grike, the Staulker, is a fascinating three-dimensional robot assassin. The tie-in with "Fever Crumb" makes Grike all the more interesting as his motivations show a creature that has not completely lost his human qualities even though he is technically dead. In a terrific twist, the reader learns Grike's heart's desire that I did not see coming. I was also glad to see him go partway through the story because he showed up when Tom and Hester were in a tight spot and it would have become repetitious had Reeve kept the same pattern going in the plot. By resolving Grike two-thirds through the story it added interest and then a new twist in the last third.

This story is more violent than "Fever Crumb" and has more romance giving it a Young Adult feel. The author has nuanced villains and characters with distinct voices. Besides Grike, the pirate is a hoot. This helps balance the dark side of the story by lightening the violence. The pirate wants Tom to help him with his "Ettyket" or etiquette. He's a goofball that reminded me a bit of Dustin Hoffman in the movie, "Hook." All in good fun. Reeve also balances kind people with nasty people, that again, doesn't make the novel too dark.

Themes involve idolizing people and then being betrayed, learning to look beyond appearances, making moral decisions, and colonialism. Tom, the protagonist, must decide who to trust and to not trust after he is betrayed by someone he looked up to his entire life. As a person that grew up in London, when he gets embroiled in the politics of the Municipal Darwinism thinkers and the Anti-Traction people, he must choose sides even though he tries not to. He looks beyond the horribly scarred face of Hester Shaw and makes a true friend, but it takes time for the two to trust each other. The Colonialism that threatens to destroy resources versus the Anti-Traction League that he can see working to stabilize Earth, makes him question the morality of what his government is doing in its quest to destroy others. Engines are mortal compared to the Earth's natural resources. A great science fiction story with nonstop action.

5 Smileys

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