The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Island Life

Just finished The Web Of Air, the second prequel to the Mortal Engines quartet, in which Fever Crumb, of the first prequel, has now joined a peripatetic theatre troupe who visit the island of Mayda, a city built within the remains of an impact crater. There she meets Arlo Thursday, a young boy intent on discovering the secret of flight.

The appeal of these books for me is twofold; firstly, they’re usually extremely well-plotted, page-turny stories with memorable characters, shocking twists and a consistent desire to avoid doing the obvious, and secondly, the world of Mortal Engines, a world of incredible imaginative invention by Philip Reeve, at first simply a world in which giant cities rumbled about on wheels, but growing with each book into an ever-more detailed world, with numerous societies, locations and now an ever-developing back-story, as we learn how the world of Mortal Engines came into being. The first prequel, Fever Crumb, felt very self-contained, as it set up the villain of Mortal Engines and the mobilisation of London, so I was surprised to discover there would be a second prequel and, it seems, a third.

I greatly enjoyed it... but it wasn’t all I had hoped for. The invention is there, as the island of Mayda is beautifully described, with its houses on rising and falling funiculars, and its mutant intelligent seagulls, but as that was the only setting for the book, there wasn’t that sense of exploration and wonder that the other books have. And secondly, more problematically, the plot doesn’t really kick in until half-way through; for about half the book, Fever Crumb is just wandering about the island chatting to people, it’s all very talky and expositional with characters discussing off-stage events. Eventually somebody gets killed and Fever is fleeing for her life and it shifts into gear, but even then the story felt rather pedestrian and inconsequential, like the low-budget episode half-way through a TV series. It’s more an experiment, a character piece, but an experiment that doesn’t quite work.

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