Thursday, May 30, 2013
Harry Potter and Dark Materials started the recent movement of YA titles that could be enjoyed by adult audiences as thoroughly as their target audience, but no title deserves this distinction more than Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. A thoroughly unsentimental, cliché rebuffing, and occasional brutally dark novel that still revels in wild adventures, crazy machines, Dickensian names and characters, and the full screen sense of wonder that belongs in a YA title. This book came out in 2001 not sure if before or after the events of September but it seems infused with the crazed atmosphere of that year, the mad march for war, the feeling of besiegement and blind trust in misguided leaders. Philip Reeve wrote the book that Mieville probably wanted too with Railsea, in fact the future wasteland of Reeve’s work is undoubtedly an influence on that book. Reeve creates a book that evokes Gilliam, Dickens, and Vance, and is overflowing with puns, references, and jokes about our time (my favorite being a character named Nancarrow and an airship called the 13th floor elevator), and filled to the brim with undead killers, giant machine cities, pirates, mad, old tech from an insane era of war, desperate atmosphere, villains that are ruthless but still human, an airship piloting spy named Fang, and two believable, unlikely young heroes. Reeve knows the trick to keep audiences on edge, make every character a full and believable character and be willing at any moment to kill one of them. The myth of protagonist’s invulnerability, revenge seeking, happy endings, the idea that a character has a destiny, and other atrocious tropes and clichés of fantasy/adventure stories are thoroughly skewered by Reeve along the way. He has created a unfriendly world ruled by force, accidents, and chaos that the character have to fight for survival in, but he has filled it with the warmth of a realistic view of humans, they can be cruel, selfish and self-involved and live in desperate times but they are recognizable human. If this series retains half the success rate of this initial volume it will be the YA series I point to above any other.