Mortal Engines: Hungry City Chronicles Book 1
The Hungry City Chronicles is one of my favourite book series from childhood. I was around twelve to fourteen years old when I first read the series. This was the ideal age to read Mortal Engines and its sequels. I had no preconceptions about literature structure. No knowledge about in media res or three-act story telling.
However, I had some concepts about the quality of a story based on the other material I was reading and had read. Take The Lord of the Rings – my favourite novel of all still today for a variety of reasons. Or maybe consider that I was also consuming Pride and Prejudice, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Little Women and many other classics. And for me, Mortal Engines as an entire series was up on a pedestal.
Revisiting: Seeing Flaws
Revisiting the series I can see some obvious flaws in the writing. There are large amounts of obvious foreshadowing. While many of the characters are also thinly sketched. In many regards they feel like simple avatars for the expression of the world around them. Yet again, the idea of this novel is certainly bigger than the novel’s telling. In a charming way the novel’s faults appear whimsical in adulthood, with the world existing as a patchwork of unique science fiction ideas.
It is a novel in a future world, in which cities drive along on treads and devour smaller cities. In the process of this ‘Municipal Darwinism’ cities absorb various resources and items from these other cities. An apocalypse split the world into areas full of roaming cities and ‘Anti-Tractionists.’ The Anti-Tractionists believe cities should live on the ground and not move around. It is a world in which the concepts of extremist capitalism are shown on an artistic canvas, warning the reader of the dangers of cities existing in isolationism. The reader is shown that a world in which cities devour one another to maintain some kind of importance on the Earth is no world worth living in.
In many ways, the ‘cool elements’ of this novel that attracted the adolescent version of myself are mere distractions. The scarred heroine, the bookish protagonist, the cyborg zombies, and the moving and eating cities. The essence of this novel is found in the heart of what it shares about humanity. Particularly about our present and our future. And that message is what truly touched me before. A message that continues to influence me now as an adult re-reader.
The film is about to hit cinemas in December this year. So why not settle in and give this Middle-Grade gem a read beforehand? I will certainly be watching eagerly and reviewing the film once I watch it!
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