“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’s an unconventional opening for a book to say the least. Your ears instantly prick up at not only the insanity of it, but also the intrigue. And no, it’s not a metaphor for the competitive rivalry between the world’s biggest cities – this is London, a great industrial wheeled machine of a city, chasing down its prey with the intention of “eating it”. A “Sixty-Minute War”, heavily suggested to have been caused by a nuclear disaster, has destroyed society as we know it, turning desperate scavenging cities into giant traction engines that move around the wasteland left behind. It’s a world where the number of tires on your city equates to where you are on the food chain – a ruthless, hungry world.
If you haven’t already gathered, this apocalyptic future is setting for the Mortal Engines Quartet, a series of four acclaimed children’s novels by author Philip Reeve. The series has recently been optioned by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson to be turned into a series of blockbuster films, and I can’t think of a more perfect choice. Like LOTR, or other successful franchises like Harry Potter, Mortal Engines is a children’s tale with vast depths to be explored by its adult readers. City politics, family conflicts, brutal deaths – Mortal Engines has it all. Our protagonist is Tom Natsworthy, an orphaned apprentice historian living in steampunked London. His life is turned upside down on meeting two girls; firstly the attractive Katherine Valentine, daughter of Thaddeus Valentine, a celebrity with shades of grey; and Thaddeus Valentine’s attempted assassin, the hideously disfigured Hester Shaw. When Tom prevents an attempt on Valentine’s life by Hester, he finds himself thrown from a moving London onto the Wasteland with the would-be assassin.
All the characters have incredible depth for a children’s series. Hester, for instance, is possibly the most interesting antiheroine I’ve found in the genre. Tom is a relatable protagonist, and the world of the Hungry Cities is not one of the happily ever after – not all your characters will make it to the end. The saga is split in two – Books 1 and 2, Mortal Engines and Predator’s Gold follow Tom and Hester, and Books 3 and 4, Infernal Devices and A Darkling Plain, are set a generation later – an interesting move by Philip Reeve in that you really see characters develop and grow over the course of the series. It’ll be interesting to see how this translates into film, and whether Peter Jackson decides to have the movies set in just the first era. I for one hope not, as the whole story is extremely cyclical and well-thought out. There’s even a set of prequel novels, Fever Crumb, explains how London became a traction city. The Mortal Engines Quartet is not one to be missed – get ahead and read it now, so you can enjoy Peter Jackson’s movies all the more.
P.S. – For a little trivia, the first line of Mortal Engines seen above is also the last line of A Darkling Plain…
Mortal Engines, and its three sequels, are available to buy now from all good booksellers. Peter Jackson and Wingnut Films announced their intention to adapt the saga last month, with details yet to be announced.