Book Review: Mortal Engines

mortal engines

Mortal Engines
by Philip Reeve
Post-Apocalyptic Steampunk
296 pages
Published 2002

Through this entire book, I kept thinking “this feels like Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.” It’s a completely different setting, and a different plot, but it had the same atmosphere. Rollicking action, fantastical premise, crazy setting, huge machines with entire worlds within them. I loved Valerian – it may not have been a critically great movie, and I don’t think the leads had much chemistry, but the movie was just FUN. And that’s how Mortal Engines is, too.

It’s a crazy world, where cities have become mobile – think Howl’s Moving Castle – and they chase each other across a barren world, devouring each other for resources in a social order they call Municipal Darwinism. Some cities, like London, are huge, with six main levels, not really counting the Gut, or the center of the machinery. Other towns are small, one or two levels crawling along trying to avoid the notice of the larger, faster cities. The peoples of the Traction Cities think people who live in statics (stationary cities, or, horror of horrors, right on the ground!) or people who are part of the Anti-Traction League, are crazy barbarians. And then there are the airship captains and crews, based out of the one floating city.

It is a crazy steampunk world, and Tom Natsworthy stumbles into a conspiracy plot by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But as he travels with Hester across the wasteland, trying to survive their pursuers and avert catastrophe, he learns more about her, and more about how the world actually works.

I absolutely adore the last two sentences of the book, and I’m going to post those here because they aren’t terribly spoilery. And they’re fantastic.

“You aren’t a hero, and I’m not beautiful, and we probably won’t live happily ever after,” she said. “But we’re alive, and together, and we’re going to be all right.”

This book is the first of a quartet, and Reeve also wrote a prequel trilogy, so there’s actually three books before AND after this book. I’ll probably check my library for them, because I REALLY enjoyed this book.

Mortal Engines is also set to come out as a movie this December – I can’t tell from the teaser how closely it’s going to stick to the plot of the book, but the Traction Cities are well done!

This also fills the “Steampunk” prompt for Litsy’s Booked 2018 challenge.

From the cover of Mortal Engines:

Emerging from its hiding place in the hills, the great Traction City of London chases one terrified little town across the wastelands. If it cannot overpower smaller, slower prey, the city will come to a standstill and risk being taken over by another. In the attack, Tom Natsworthy, Apprentice Historian to the London Museum, is flung from its speeding superstructure into the barren wasteland of Out-Country. His only companion is Hester Shaw, a murderous, scar-faced girl who does not particularly want Tom’s company. But if they are to make it back to London, before Stalkers or hungry cities get them first, they will need to help each other, and fast. If Hester is to be believed, London is planning something atrocious, and the future of the world could be at stake. Can they get back to London before it’s too late?

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Book Review: Star Wars: Phasma

Journey to the Last Jedi Star Wars PhasmaJourney to The Last Jedi: Phasma
or Star Wars: Phasma
by Delilah S. Dawson
Sci-fi
401 pages
Published 2017

Star Wars: Phasma is one of a series of books that is supposed to help us bridge the gap into The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. They call them Journey to the Last Jedi, but given that Princess of Alderaan explores Leia’s early years, parts of them at least are set prior to the original trilogy. The Journey set includes Bloodline, about Leia’s struggles to organize the New Republic, and the birth of the First Order. It also includes Legends of Luke Skywalker, but as that is actually billed as legends and tall-tales told about Luke, and not necessarily true stories, I’m less inclined to read it.

Back to Phasma! So far, all we’ve seen of Phasma was the enigmatic Storm Trooper Captain, in chrome armor, powering down the shields when forced to in The Force Awakens. We never even saw her face. (Gwendolyn Christie had a wonderful opinion on why her face wasn’t shown, in an interview with Stephen Colbert the other night. You can watch the video below.)

So in the novel, we learn Phasma’s true origins. The story is told via a framework – a Resistance spy, Vi Moradi, is captured by Captain Cardinal, Phasma’s chief rival within the First Order. He forces her to tell him all she knows about Phasma, which she does, because it’s not info directly about The Resistance, and she’s hoping to turn him to her side. Phasma’s life began on a once thriving planet that had been decimated about 150 years before her birth by some force. (I don’t want to reveal too many surprises, and this book is full of them!) One of her old tribemates told the entire story of Phasma’s youth, rise to power in the tribe, and eventual escape from the planet to Moradi. It’s a story of survival at all costs, and illustrates just how good Phasma is at it.

I rather hope we see Captain Cardinal in The Last Jedi, as he grew on me even as he was interrogating Moradi. He goes from loyal First Order soldier with a grudge against Phasma to a conflicted man who’s beginning to see how much he’s been brainwashed. It’s intriguing to read. The revelation that The First Order rewards the ruthless while overlooking those who play by its own rules also breaks him a little bit.

I really enjoyed this book, and I will definitely be picking up Bloodline and Princess of Alderaan, because I can never get enough Leia. If you’re not a Star Wars fan, I’d definitely take a pass on this book, because it won’t really mean anything. But as a fan, it’s a fascinating look at the beginnings of a villain.

(If you’re interested in more Star Wars, I have also read and reviewed Ahsoka, by E. K. Johnston.)

From the cover of Star Wars: Phasma:

One of the most cunning and merciless officers of the First Order, Captain Phasma commands the favor of her superiors, the respect of her peers, and the terror of her enemies. But for all her renown, Phasma remains as virtually unknown as the impassive expression on her gleaming chrome helmet. Now, an adversary is bent on unearthing her mysterious origins—and exposing a secret she guards as zealously and ruthlessly as she serves her masters.

Deep inside the Battlecruiser Absolution, a captured Resistance spy endures brutal interrogation at the hands of a crimson-armored stormtrooper—Cardinal. But the information he desires has nothing to do with the Resistance or its covert operations against the First Order.

What the mysterious stormtrooper wants is Phasma’s past—and with it whatever long-buried scandal, treachery, or private demons he can wield against the hated rival who threatens his own power and privilege in the ranks of the First Order. His prisoner has what Cardinal so desperately seeks, but she won’t surrender it easily. As she wages a painstaking war of wills with her captor, bargaining for her life in exchange for every precious revelation, the spellbinding chronicle of the inscrutable Phasma unfolds. But this knowledge may prove more than just dangerous once Cardinal possesses it—and once his adversary unleashes the full measure of her fury.

More Nerdfighter-y stuff

In the same vein as my last post, I’d like to plug another Youtube channel. This is one I only discovered a couple of days ago, and promptly watched all the videos. It’s called “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” and it’s a retelling of Pride and Prejudice as a vlog. It’s also absolutely AMAZING. It was produced by Hank Green, of the vlogbrothers, and he won an Emmy for it. (Learning he’d won an Emmy for something is what brought it to my attention.) It’s hysterical at times, and tear-inducing at others. It’s beautifully done.

I’m a big fan of re-imaginings of old stories. I’ve read (and own!) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. I have not yet read Android Karenina, but it’s on my list! In finding the Amazon links for what I just listed, I also discovered several more – Mansfield Park and Mummies, Little Vampire Women, and Jane Slayre. Given my unending love for Jane Eyre, I will DEFINITELY have to get my hands on that last one! There also appears to be both a sequel and a prequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Looks like I have whole new slew of books for my to-read list!

(Edit: There’s now a movie in the works of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!)

I’m not sure why I love retellings of Pride and Prejudice so much – maybe because the plot is very similar to Much Ado About Nothing, which is my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays. I love the back-and-forth verbal sparring between two prickly characters. (Perhaps because it reminds me of my relationship with my husband!)

Without further ado (see what I did there?), the first episode of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: