Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

Information

Goodreads: Mortal Engines
Series: Predator Cities Quartet #1
Source: Library
Published: 2001

Summary

Historian Apprentice Tom has always admired the legendary Valentine, historian and explorer.  However, when a girl named Hester Shaw arrives in his hometown of London claiming Valentine to be a villain, Tom’s world is upended.  Suddenly, he and Hester are chasing London across the continent–one to return home and one to claim vengeance.

Star Divider

Review

“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.”

Mortal Engines is a fast-paced, episodic novel focused on the action to the detriment of nearly everything else.  Characters come and go quickly and situations are solved before they can ever become real problems for the protagonists.  Onward, onward the story rushes, keen to introduce new scenes and new scenarios to keep readers engaged.  Ultimately, however, it is difficult to engage with a story where the characterization is minimal and the relationships rushed.

The first thing readers will likely notice about the book is that Mortal Engines feels very much like a YA novel from the early 2000s.  It is clean enough that, like The Giver and A Wrinkle in Time, it could easily be marketed as upper-middle grade and as well YA.  It lacks a love triangle.  It focuses on its story and does not suddenly become a romance when one thought one was reading a post-apocalyptic adventure.  Whether or not readers will enjoy reading a YA that feels, well, like it almost shouldn’t be called YA since it’s missing all the recognizable tropes, will, of course, be up to personal preference.  But at least  Mortal Engines feels very different from most of what is currently on the YA market.

Regrettably, however, the  book seems invested only in the action and not in building a well-developed story or well-developed characters.  Scenes are very short, meaning that the protagonists can jump from one dangerous situation to another in order to keep the plot flowing.  However, this also means every dangerous situation is resolved incredibly quickly.  As a result, it is hard to feel worried for the characters because it is so evident they will be fine within a few pages.  Allies and foes come and go with the scenes, making it likewise difficult to feel invested in them.  Do we care who lives and who dies when we barely know them?

The minimal characterization also hurts the relationships, making them far from realistic.  Relationships do not really develop in the book, having no time to do so.  They are simply announced.  Suddenly, two characters who talked to each other for awhile, are in love.  There is no build up.  There is no chemistry.  We simply receive romances because, apparently, why not?  I actually have trouble believing these romances exist because so little textual evidence suggests they should.

Even with a Peter Jackson film coming out, I have difficulty seeing  Mortal Engines regaining new life as a beloved sci-fi adventure.  There is a sort-of interesting premise buried at its core (mobile cities that chase each other for scrap metal–mainly because their inhabitants are too proud/stupid to stop moving and make a life off the land).  However, the premise is simply a vague background to a series of episodes for Tom and Hester to fly across.  Readers accustomed to fully-fleshed out world, lengthy plots, and simmering romances may find Mortal Engines not quite to their taste.

3 Stars

24 thoughts on “Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

    • Krysta says:

      The movie at least looks like it could have some great visuals! I’m sure Jackson was attracted by the idea of presenting cities “eating” each other!

      Like

  1. thebookwormdrinketh says:

    Ugh… Books that focus more on the action than the story drive me crazy… I mean, how am I supposed to CARE about the action if I don’t even really under stand who’s a part of it??
    Although, you won me over a little with “there is no love triangle” PHEW!! 😂😂

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      It was confusing to me because normally when people are being, say, hunted, they’re hunted for the entire book. Not like a quarter of it. It just felt like the action changed far too quickly!

      Yeah, the lack of romance is actually a huge plus for me here. And it makes sense. You’re trying to survive. You probably should be thinking about that and not mooning over which of two people you want to be making out with as you run away from pirates or whatever. XD

      Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah…the movie trailer looked kind of interesting, but it also looks like Jackson is trying to make this story more epic than it actually is. Kind of like what he did with The Hobbit.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Captain's Quarters says:

    Excellent review matey. I was potentially going to listen to this one but I have to admit that yer review makes it seem as though it will not be to me taste. So I am going to skip it and be okay with that. Thanks for the saved time. Arrr!
    x The Captain

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I don’t feel compelled to read the rest of the quartet after this. Especially since this adventure seems pretty much wrapped up and book two appears to be largely unrelated.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The Book Family Rogerson says:

    I love this book but I read it years ago just as YA fiction really started to explode (I produced the first copy in fact!). You’re totally right in saying that this would be considered more of an upper-middle grade read these days though. Readers’ expectations have changed a lot since this was first published. Still it has lots of merits & is darker than a lot of MG out there especially the ending.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I can actually see why this book would appeal to people. It has all the elements of a book that I think I would like. Somehow, though, I didn’t. :/ Which is rather sad for me, as it would have been nice to have three more books to read of a series I loved.

      And, definitely, yes! The ending is very dark. I’ve seen some dark upper-MG, of course, but I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite on that level.

      Like

  4. marydrover says:

    I felt the same way about this book! The trailers have made it look so exciting that I definitely wanted to read before watching, and now, I think I’m definitely going to like the movie more. I kept thinking that if only it was 100-200 pages longer and actually took the time to develop the characters and the world, this would have been amazing.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Children’s books used to have much stricter page limits before Harry Potter demonstrated people would read long books, so it’s possible that, if the book were published today, it would be a 400-page book like everything else. It seems like, in this case, a page limit might have hindered the story!

      Like

  5. saraletourneau says:

    Hmmmmmm… Well, I was interested in both seeing the movie and reading the book. But I’ve read enough reviews of the movie to change my mind on that front (sorry Peter Jackson, but I’d rather not invest in seeing a movie if I think I’m going to come away regretting spending said money). As for the book, I think maybe I’ll borrow it from the library, but I’ll keep in mind that the book focuses more on action and worldbuilding and not so much on characterization.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I was interested in the movie, too, before I saw all the lackluster reviews. So I’ll be skipping it, unfortunately. The book might be worth a try. Some people seem to really love it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. spicejac says:

    Really interesting take on Mortal Engines – my 11 year old is loving the book, and we went to see the movie and LOVED IT! I was amazed at how much I loved the movie, the diversity of the cast, and also the story. Jihae as Anna Fang was amazing, so much so I went out and bought the short stories that Reeve wrote after he saw Jihae bring Anna to life…..Please don’t let the reviews put you off, it’s a much better film than the dreadful Fantastic Beasts two.

    I did struggle with the prequel Fever Crumb series to Mortal Engines, but I will read the series, especially as I tend to bookclub books with my 11 year old.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I have seen reviews where people loved the book, for sure! Still, if I do watch the movie, I’d probably wait for it to be released on DVD. I don’t watch many films in theatres, and this one doesn’t seem worth the ticket price to me, based on the trailer.

      Like

      • spicejac says:

        We enjoyed it at the cinema – though because we’re members of the cinema we get to see movies for $10 each……so for us it’s a cheap night out…..

        Like

  7. Lukre says:

    I agree with you about the lack of characterization and the fact that the pace of the action really hurts the book itself. I would have liked some extra pages if it meant that I would get the meat behind the bones of the neverending action.
    I see the point you are trying to make about it being YA, and yeah! But I’m happy there’s no love triangle. The way it is presented is just right.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I was a little disappointed. I think maybe the book is representative of its time, but most YA doesn’t read like this anymore, so it was difficult for me to get into it.

      Liked by 1 person

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