Friday, 10 April 2009

Infernal Devices - Philip Reeve

Read: November 2007

Sixteen years have passed since Professor Pennyroyal shot Tom Natsworthy and escaped Anchorage in the Jenny Hanniver, leaving Hester pregnant and unsure whether Tom would live, or even whether Anchorage would survive the night. In that time much has happened.

Under the leadership of Stalker Fang the Green Storm has taken over the Anti-Traction League and is now waging a bitter and bloody war against Traction Cities across the world. Spurred on by the destructive and never ending war, technological development has boomed: the secret of heavier than air travel has been discovered, the Green Storm has learned how to turn dead birds into Stalker birds, and now everyone is searching for the Tin Book which could hold the secret to a weapon even more powerful than MEDUSA.

But life has been less eventful in Anchorage, now safely static on the shores of the dead continent. Tom and Hester’s daughter Wren is fifteen and growing bored with the lack of action. Her future appears to consist of teaching young children marrying one of her friends, and never seeing life outside what was once America. So when three lost boys led by Gargle appear in Anchorage in search of the Tin Book, Wren is only too willing to offer her services on one condition: they take her with them. But soon she has been kidnapped and held as slave to Professor Pennyroyal, (now mayor of Brighton) and the adventure she dreamed of is turning rapidly into a nightmare.

And with Hester and Tom hell bent on rescuing their daughter, everyone is beginning to remember just how cold and vindictive Hester can be.

Infernal Devices increases the scope of Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines quartet tremendously. With the plot moving towards the war between Traction Cities and the Green Storm it takes on some modern political issues, particularly terrorism and environmentalism and this gives it another level on which to work. But it is not overly serious and is also probably the funniest of the lot. Philip Reeve has a dark humour which often finds its targets within modern popular culture. In many ways he is liberated by setting the plot so far in the future as farcical examples of modern culture are legitimate targets both for myth and legend. So we have characters called Walmart, airships with names such as the ‘Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Machiney’, and even Christian theology has become fused with T.S. Eliot’s poem Four Quartet. Philip Reeve is a thoroughly ingenious author and his playful use of language and culture makes Infernal Devices a real reading pleasure.

In fact, Infernal Devices is virtually floorless. The characterisation is as sharp and detailed as ever, with Hester particularly displaying many of her worst qualities! It is these alongside her fierce loyalty and devotion to Tom which make her one of the most rounded and fascinating characters in children’s literature today. And this is no less a blood bath than the others, no sensibilities are spared in Philip Reeve’s exceptionally full future world. If you have not already started reading this incomparable series then you really must do so soon. You are missing out.

7.5 out of 10

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