Review: Mortal Engines

4 out of 5 stars

A steampunk-meets-Mad Max YA action adventure? YAAAAAAS plz. Mortal Engines, by Philip Reeve (Mortal Engines #1)

I loved this book! I picked it up because the movie version comes out in December (more below). There’s a masculine tilt to this story; or perhaps more correctly, it’s not overly feminine. It’s balanced, but pragmatic instead of romantic. So many YA stories are female-driven (which we love, zig-zig-ah!), that a male viewpoint seems fresh and grounding. And this is pure sci-fi deliciousness.


Tom Natsworthy is a low-level apprentice in post-apocalyptic London, which is now a Traction City. This huge, lumbering, picked-up London sits atop caterpillar treads and wanders the Hunting Ground looking for other cities to devour for scrap, supplies and slaves. It also needs to evade other, bigger cities. When Tom intervenes in an assassination attempt, he finds himself tossed off London into the brutal Out Country, with no one but the would-be killer, a horribly scar-faced girl named Hester Shaw.

engines2.pngThey set off to find their way back to London. Adventures ensue, friendships bloom, secrets are revealed. Hester’s terrible past has made her ruthless, but also sympathetic. Tom’s sheltered worldview is shattered, and from that, he grows.

This book is wildly creative. The base idea – cities ripped from the Earth and set in motion to both survive and escape! – is fantastic. It takes a familiar world, flips it, and runs it over. You get multiple perspectives, from the persecuted to the privileged, the naïve to those who understand and manipulate this post-apocalyptic world. Reeve’s writing is so easy and succinct, at first I wondered if this would truly be a kid’s’ book. But don’t be fooled. The Mortal Engines grows up as quickly as it’s heroes do.

Sidebar: New “Most Annoying Thing in Book History” – The stalker Shrike (a human/Terminator hybrid with serious Hester issues) is named GRIKE in North American editions. So I read the first book, then switched to audiobook – and his name changed. WHY?? This is inexplicably dumb and confusing. (Here’s a guess: a vaguely similar character called Shrike exists in another series. If that’s why, it’s crap. Sabaa Tahir used the name, and it’s perfectly chilling and conflicted for her character and this one.)

Now, The Movie – In theaters December 14. I already have a lot of thoughts on this.

  • They’ve made Tom and Hester SO OLD! In the book, they’re 15. These actors are 30. So is Jihae, who plays Anna Kim. So much for that whole almost-motherly, guardian angel-esque relationship. Tom’s kind of a starry-eyed lump when the book starts, and I’ll miss that.
  • Hester’s scar is SO SMALL! She has BOTH EYES! It’s still gruesome, and in real life would be as tough to live with as is described in the book. But for the pages (and paaaaages) that Reeve’s characters go on about her ruined face, and the heartbreaking way she judges herself, this is hardly what I was expecting.
  • Anna Fang is PERFECT. I was picturing Harry Shum, Jr.-as-Magnus Bane while reading the books, and that’s almost exactly what I got here. (Jihae on Apple Music… play.) [Update: That’s a no. Nope.]
  • Hugo Weaving, YES. Per usual.
  • The traction cities look bad-ass, as does Fang’s airship, the beloved Jenny Hanover.
  • It looks like they stuck to Book 1, HOORAY! There’s plenty here for a movie, and each Mortal Engines book is a neatly packaged installment.
  • I trust you, Peter Jackson. Except for the time you denied us Richard Armitage’s glorious true face for 10,000 hours of The Hobbit, you’ve never let me down.


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