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Mortal Engines
Philip Reeve
HarperCollins Eos, 320 pages

Mortal Engines
Philip Reeve
Philip Reeve has been writing stories since the age of five. Mortal Engines is his first published book which took the Smarties Gold Award in the 9-11 age group based upon votes from around 25,000 children. There is already a sequel called Predator's Gold.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

It is probably one of the most immediately involving first lines I've read in a long time.

"It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea."
It is a world where cities are built on axles or treads, the number of tiers the city has determines its place on the food chain, and London, even though it has been skulking in the wastelands, is high up there. One of the first cities to take to the treads, it has determined, like a shark, to keep moving, and to keep moving it needs to chase down prey -- smaller cities and towns -- and consume them. Literally. It has huge jaws in the lowest tier that open and drag the city or town in, while people from the various guilds wait to dismantle it and take the dwellers as prisoners and slaves. Tom Natsworthy, an apprentice at the Museum of Natural History, has been sent down to help, to make sure that anything of value, such as books or even art, doesn't get recycled in the great maw of Mechanized Darwinism. While there, in the Guts, he runs into his hero Valentine, an archeologist and explorer of renown. Tom manages to save Valentine from being stabbed by a young woman, and chases her. During the chase, one of the Beefeaters manages to shoot her in the leg. On the edge of the ship, where everything that the ship can't use gets thrown out, she faces Tom, angry that he stopped her. "Ask him," she yells at him just before she jumps off the ship, "Ask him what he did to Hester Shaw." Valentine catches up just after she goes over, and instead of asking, Tom merely tells him what she said her name was and gets thrown over the side for his trouble.

Now, off the city for the first time in his life, and abandoned in a desolate wasteland with only Hester for a companion, Tom will face pirates and other cities and towns determined to enslave the pair as well as possible starvation and death in a quest to discover why Valentine threw him over board, and the location of an artifact from the distant past that may destroy the world. Adding an interesting and vital secondary plot to the story is Valentine's daughter, Katherine, who overhears the Lord Mayor and her father talking, and works parallel to Tom and Hester as she, too, tries to solve the mystery.

The hardest part to resist about Mortal Engines was the fact that the cities moved, chased each other down, ate each other. The idea of the moving city isn't new, but it's certainly quite unusual and a little scary. The culture built up around it is like our own yet so different. Some of the things are recognizable. Saint Paul's Cathedral, the crown of the top tier, the title of Lord Mayor for the head of the city -- these are all things we know today, but applied into this context they seem part of a strange new society. It makes for a very rich and real setting, filled with things that make it continually fascinating.

The adventure of Hester and Tom trying to survive the wasteland is also well done. You get to genuinely like them both. They're around fifteen years old, and have a great deal of resourcefulness and resilience that one finds extremely admirable.

Teens will love this inventive adventure, and even adults will find it really involving.

Copyright © 2004 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at

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