Philip Reeve’s imaginative masterpiece was well worth the read. The action starts right away, and you never feel confused or lost in the story line, even though Reeves has to unpack a complex dystopian world in just a few opening pages.
Reeve’s authentic British voice is the perfect fit for this story, as it is set in future London, and his clever prose and breathtaking imagery quickly plunge you into the world without a second thought. Even though we are made to believe in preposterous things such as two thousand-foot tall cities that roll on wheels across the barren wastelands of destroy Europe, Reeve makes it so enticing that you willingly suspend disbelief and swallow every word.
I thought Reeves’ attention to character was very rewarding, especially by the end of the book, where the story ends in an unexpected and meaningful way. The main character, Tom Natsworthy, is a likeable guy from the very start and is dearly imperfect throughout the whole story. He grows so much over the course of the book, which is only natural considering the monumental events that transpire, and by the end of the story, I felt like I had learned as much as Tom did about human nature, love, and hope.
Even though the other main character, Hester Shaw, is annoying, sullen and hideous at first—so much so that it made me wish Tom hadn’t gotten stuck out in the wilderness with such a brat—her transformation across the telling of the story is so worthwhile that I was completely won over by the end.
Of course, the action is well-written and exciting. Some notable mentions for excellent characters include Anna Fang, Shrike, Katherine Valentine, and of course Thaddeus Valentine himself, who is now one of my favorite villains of all time. You’ll be surprised how relatable, likeable, and sympathetic Valentine is during the story, as Reeve expertly tells certain parts of the story from his perspective. Instead of creating a monster villain like many epic novels do, Reeve delicately made a villain who is neither a hero nor a demon, but instead a complex man with a very understandable motivation and painful choices to make.
This story had something that I’ve started to recognize in the best of novels: heart. Every time I absolutely love a novel or movie, I can identify a big dose of heart in the story. It’s that touch of humanity that changes a book from a string of fictional events into an experience. I don’t care how epic or twisted the plot line is if the story has no heart behind it.
As far as questionable content goes, there are a couple of light cuss words and some lightly graphic depictions of violence, although it is never macabre in any way. It also has some absolutely gross moments (specifically in the Turd Tanks), but they are handled well and make a point. God is never mentioned in the book, but London has several false gods that the citizens worship and blaspheme (“for Quirke’s sake!”) throughout the book, which mostly helps make the world even more believable. I wasn't a huge fan of that, but I understand what Reeves was doing.
This book had me both laughing and gasping out loud the whole way, which doesn’t often happen to me. Reeve has a way of surprising his readers at every turn that few authors have.
So there it is! I give it a 10 out of 10 for a science fiction/steampunk novel. For what it’s worth, I think the movie was garbage and didn’t even come close to doing the book justice. So definitely read the book first before not watching the movie. Enjoy!