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A Darkling Plain (Mortal Engines Quartet) Paperback – 3 Sep 2015
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When the story opens, Theo has returned to his family in Zagwa but cannot forget the kiss he shared with Wren. Tom is travelling the Bird Roads with his daughter, both keeping busy in their attempts to put behind them their break from Hester. At a trading post Tom spots a face he recognises from his time in London where he thought everyone had been killed by Medusa. With his health deteriorating Tom mulls the possibility of revisiting the wreck of his old home city.
The Green Swarm and the Traction Cities have embarked on an uneasy truce but there are many on both sides who are unhappy with this peaceful acceptance of alternative ways of life they have been raised to regard as detestable. Rogue elements are determined to quash their enemies by whatever means necessary. When Tom and Wren are chartered to take a wealthy young mayor-in-waiting, Wolf, on a reconnaisance flight to what is left of old London, they get caught up in violent intrigues where trust is scarce.
Hester has been reunited with Stalker Shrike and is travelling on a sandship, intent on not allowing herself to care for anyone again. When she encounters captive slaves, recognising them from her previous life, she becomes embroiled in rivalries from both sides of the war.
Fishcake has done what he can to repair Stalker Fang who is eager to return to Batmunkh Gompa that she may avenge all who have failed her and, alone, turn the world green. Despite her deadly focus, she becomes the closest thing the abandoned young Lost Boy has to a longed for parent.
When a fearsome new weapon starts attacking from the sky, old grievances risk destroying what progress has been made in this violent and increasingly fragile new world. The race is on to prevent mankind’s annihilation.
This is an engaging and fast moving romp through an imaginatively constructed if somewhat violent fantasy world, but I would recommend reading the full series to gain the most from the story told. The quartet is proof, if anyone still needs convincing, that young adult fiction can be enjoyed by competent readers of any age. The final page is as satisfying as any I have read.
And this whole series does just that. All these names that seem to come out of our atavistic memories like Kriegmarshall Kobold and Panzerstadt Winterthur, Wolverinehampton and Airhaven. ODIN which is Reagan's SDI. Sayings like "It is a truth universally acknowledged that an explorer with a good fortune must be in search of a wife".
And most importantly number 1 son loved it and read all the books without any encouragement from me.
As the last book reaches it's closing moments tears are already streaming down my cheek, but the final line is one of the most satisfying final lines of any book I have read. In fact a quick Google of best closing lines could not reveal a better one.
And this is a children's book. My only criticism, is that it might have been a trilogy rather than a quartet. I found I tired of Uncle and his Lost Boys (Fagin rather than Peter Pan in case you are wondering).
It's pointless coming into A Darkling Plain without having read the first three installments. Unlike the first two, this one makes no attempt to stand up as a self-contained narrative. We need to be familiar with the characters, the environment in which they exist and the things they've done over the course of two decades.
Lucky for us, however, that the preceeding books were so good (the third being, in my opinion, the weakest of the bunch, but still enjoyable stuff).
Throughout the saga, Philip Reeve is very generous in allowing his characters to change, grow and - in some cases - become more flawed and unlikeable as the adventures proceed. regardless of how novel, rich and exciting his future vision of hungy cities and Municipal Darwinism might be, it's the continuous character evolution that keeps us hooked.
In this final tome, it's also become clear that Reeve is aware of Mortal Engines' potential as a movie franchise, as the language and structure become quite explicitly cinematic. If the rumours are true that an option of the series has been bought by Peter Jackson's Wing Nut Productions, this could have been a very sensible career move.
Regardless, the yarn is a ripping one from start to finish. We actually care about the characters. The sci-fi world that Reeve creates is novel and intriguing without ever feeling contrived. It's violent and bloody and gritty and merciless at times, but there's also some nice innocent humour there too (I especially liked the fact that we meet two brothers named Lego and Duplo). A Darkling Plain is more action-packed than its predecessors, but that's not a complaint - I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. The ending is emotional and moving. Sad, but also quite uplifting in its final pages.
Apparently, it's a good read for kids too - this reviewer is aged 39. I would never offer it as a bedtime read for my six-year-old, but as soon as he's old enough to handle books of that length and complexity, I'll give him strict instructions not to touch anything so violent and scary, while making sure to leave them carelessly lying around the house...
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