Book Review: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

This book has been on my peripheral for a few years, but it wasn’t on the top of my list until I say the trailer for the movie adaptation in 2018. The trailer looked interesting and though the movie got pretty bad reviews, it made me curious to read the book. So, here I am finally reading it.

I’m surprised I haven’t read it before, because I usually love steampunk adventures. But I suppose there are just too many books in the world to possibly have time to read them all.

For reference, this is the first in a four book series, and since I enjoyed this one, I’ll probably read the next ones as well (at least, eventually).

Release: 2001

Synopsis: In a world where cities move on wheels and consume smaller towns, Tom Natsworthy is a historian apprentice in the massive London city. But when a scarred girl tries to kill the high historian and Tom is thrown out of the city, he must discover a world he never knew and fight to survive as the name of Hester Shaw shapes the history of the world.

Non-Spoiler Review

For the most part, I enjoyed this book. The world is one of the most expertly developed fantasy worlds I have ever read, and the book is filled with fast-paced action. I never felt confused about how the world worked and world-building was weaved in perfectly into the plot, enough to develop the world but not too much to bog down the story. The characters, while not highly developed were understandable and interesting, especially Hester and Tom. There were a lot of jumps in POV, which most of the time I was fine with, but in the end it got a bit confusing. Speaking of the ending, it really surprised me, because it was brutal. But more about that in the spoiler section.

There are a lot of interesting inserts into the book. For example, the concept of “Municipal Darwinism,” which is pretty much this world’s idea of survival of the fittest. This world is in the distant future, where nuclear power is considered ancient, and cities literally eat other cities to gain fuel to continue to grow bigger. London, the main city in this book, is one of the biggest cities, consuming smaller towns easily. I loved the concept of Municipal Darwinism, the idea that, in order to survive, cities captured and destroyed weaker of the species. In a moral sense, I cannot agree with it, but I still found it interesting.

Besides that, there were many things interesting about the world, and we would be here all day if I got into every detail I found interesting, but let me name a few. “Old Tech” is sought after, especially by the antagonist of this book, and is essentially our modern technology which has been lost after some massive apocalypse. You have the Anti-Tractionists (Tractioners? I can’t remember what they’re called), who believe that cities should not move and should remain still (radical, I know), all of which the antagonist wants to destroy. You have the Sixty-Minute War, which is apparently the apocalypse of this world. And that’s just touching the surface of this complex social system.

The characters themselves were great, though as I mentioned before, not highly developed. What I mean by this is that they all had basic characteristics but no deep motives or psychologies. Tom, the main protagonist, is a young teen with strong ideals and when his ideals are challenged, he has to decide what to believe. This is his basic character arch, and he doesn’t get much depth outside of that arch, besides the fact that he’s kind and giving. All the characters are like this. We understand their personality within the character arch, but don’t learn much more.

I loved the relationship between Hester and Tom. Hester doesn’t trust anyone, but Tom is the most genuine person in this twisted world and by the end of the book they are close friends. It’s an adorable friendship to see grow from mistrust to trust.

The point of view of this book mostly switches from Tom’s perspective as he runs after London and Katherine Valentine’s perspective (she is the daughter of Thaddeus Valentine, the main antagonist of the book). I didn’t mind these switches, because different things were going on with each character. However, there were a quite a few scenes that switched to random POVs, like present-tense view of London or Hester or Valentine’s perspective. I wasn’t fond of these random shifts, but they were so few and far in between, it didn’t take too much from my enjoyment.

For this book being a YA novel, it doesn’t feel like it. Yes, you have Hester and Tom being about fifteen or sixteen, but the story and world doesn’t feel extremely young. Even as an adult, I enjoyed it as much as I would any adult book.

But that ending…just blew me away.

Spoiler Alert!

A lot of people die in the last fifty pages or so, the most shocking of which is Katherine herself, who throws herself between her father and Hester and gets stabbed by her own father. It’s crazy, but it’s so perfect for the plot, as Valentine killed Hester’s parents without a thought and because of his actions his daughter turned against him and he lost her, the person he loved most in the world. It’s a sobering ending.

The only scene I couldn’t handle was when Dog (Katherine’s pet who is a wolf/dog…not sure, can’t remember) is killed near the ending. I can handle people dying pretty well, but not animals…

There are a lot more spoilers, but the book was so enjoyable I honestly can’t bring myself to spoil anything else.

The Movie

Since I became interested in this book after watching the trailer for the movie, I thought it only right to watch the film right after I finished the book. I’m not going to do a full review for the movie, but I thought if you are interested in the book you might be interested in the movie as well. The movie got horrible reviews so going into it I had very low expectations.

My final thoughts are…it isn’t a horrible movie. It’s very different from the book (starting with both the actors for Tom and Hester being thirty instead of teens). The world is basically the same, but the world-building is so condensed it feels shallow and bland. But I really liked Tom, Hester, and Katherine (even though the rest of the characters felt more bland that even in the book). For once, I actually enjoyed the movie more than I thought I would, but maybe that was because I went into it with so low expectations. I can see, however, how fans of the book which be disappointed in that the movie is so different. Like that scene where they go into the museum and see three Minions (from the Despicable Me movie) as being ancient is a bit too much (I kind of want to take that scene and stomp on it a bit). I just think the movie takes itself a bit too seriously, but it’s not a horrible movie by any means and the over-dramatic scenes are hilarious to laugh at! And the depictions of the cities are beautiful!


I really enjoyed the book, and if you are a fan of the fantasy genre or steampunk (I know this book isn’t steampunk, but it feels like it), I highly recommend it. It’s a quick read and contains an amazingly interesting world.

Have you read this book? Or seen the movie? What are your thoughts on either or both? If you haven’t seen either, does it look interesting to you? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

  1. I read the book after watching the movie and it was a quick read for me. I loved Tom in both the movie and the book, but I agree with your comment on the characters not really being fully developed. I would have loved a bit more meat (pages) that would offer the backstory, psychological characterization…
    but all in all a very enjoyable read and a fun movie (Tom being played by Robert Sheehan really helps 😉 )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the main problem with the movie was that it just was trying to throw too many things into too short of movie. They should have made it into a miniseries, or a TV series. Then it would have been as great as the book!

      Liked by 1 person

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