Infernal Devices by Philip Reeve book review

Wednesday, May 31, 2017
infernal devices book cover by ian mcque

Infernal Devices by Philip Reeve book review 

I do my most of my book reading on the bus to work and back days a week.  And I recently finished the third novel in the Predator Cities Quartet, Infernal Devices while sitting on the bus and I had no one to share my delight with.

So here's my thoughts, direct from the Number 3 to Karori bus, just for you, dear reader.

First of all, when I first read Mortal Engines, I promptly reviewed it.

When it was Predator's Gold's turn, I didn't review it. Not because it was a bad book (it's great and perhaps even better than the first) I just didn't feel the world needed me to add yet another review to the pages of the internet.

But Infernal Devices kind of compels me to do so.

And I think I know why.

It's kind of 'same same but different' as the last two books and I think it's that 'difference' I'll explore.

Let's begin with saying (as I did in my Mortal Engines review) - I'm nearly forty, think Transformers and Star Wars are the best franchises around and I like to think I'm a rock god when I play the old six string.

I've already kissed the girl (and I liked it).

Which means I have nothing in common with teenagers and the drama that age bracket brings.

infernal devices book cover
So then, was I ready for more Hester and Tom angsty dramatics? Yes, I was.

And then author Philip Reeve turns the whole series on its head and makes the story mostly about their daughter Wren and what a nice surprise this was.

While Lee Childs may churn out story after story about Jack Reacher, it's nice to see that even though Reeve had built up a steam of success with his first two novels, he wasn't about to sit back and coast on that success.

So Wren then.

A classic moody teenager, sick of her mother, slightly tired of her dad (but loves him a bunch).

A girl that just wants to have fun.

Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for.

After a thrilling opening where we see Hester's murderous and raging emotions brought to the fore, Wren is kidnapped by the Lost Boys (the one's introduced in Predator's Gold) which sets forth the adventure.

Many familiar characters from the prior two novels come into Wren's realm but in different contexts to that her mum and dad met those characters. And that's the different part of same same but different. Professor Pennyroyal gets to play the Mayor, Shrike and our  immortal beloved Anna Fang get to terrorize everyone in different ways but all the while, this novel feels perfectly set in the world of Mortal Engines.

Reeve's style is exactly as the prior novels with a handily paced set up, some nice clue dropping as to plot developments and as with the prior two novels, he brings the various plot arcs to a very nice and tidy conclusion.

If the book lacked anything, I wanted to see more of Hester Shaw in action. The psyche of that character as a broken human is a fantastic observation.

On its own as book, it's a handy read and fairly self contained but enjoyed more if you've read the prior novels.

Wren is nicely set up as a character that we can only presume will turn up in A Darkling Plain and some of the broader, more global elements and themes will pass over quite nicely as well setting up what we are sure will be a grand conclusion to the quadrilogy.

Update: We read a Darkling Plain and as our review will tell you, it's a formidable conclusion to Wren's story. 

Someone in New Zealand is running round handing out free copies of Mortal Engines.

Monday, May 29, 2017
mortal engines gift copy

There's a group of book fairies running round in New Zealand leaving copies of Mortal Engines on park benches as presents for would-be-readers to find and enjoy!

What a fabulous idea.

Turns out this is some kind of happy movement to share books around the entire world. You can learn more about The Book Fairies at their site.

If you didn't manage to find your own copy of Mortal Engines, there's plenty on offer at Amazon.

London Traction City Concept art from the Mortal Engines Movie

Friday, May 26, 2017
Peter Jackson released concept art for Mortal Engines and we have to say we're pretty impressed. It's a picture of the protagonist (or is that antagonist) Hester Shaw in wearing her famed red scarf starring at the giant traction city of London in the distance. Except it's not that distant as the city is ginormous!

Hester shaw concept art Mortal Engines

While Hester is cool and all, it's the city that we think is the most intriguing. We're not sure every part of what is seen in the design is the whole of London or it's parked up next to a mining town that it's about to eat. Possibly not though as it has some air ships about to land on it.

Here's a close up of the city taken from the above image.

london traction city mortal engines concept art

You can see some pretty awesome detail in there. I kind of liken it to the tower of Minas Tirith from the Two Towers which Peter Jackson's production team made with such attention to detail. The same can be said of the detail that's gone into this design.

One can only wait and see what the actual design of London and the other traction cities will be like.

Note that you can actually see one of the Lions if you look carefully enough!

And we wonder just where Tom's museum is on that thing....

Just some chairs on a set in Mirimar, Wellington, New Zealand!

Philip Reeves recently made a secret trip to NZ to hang out on the Mortal Engine's film set. Here's a sneaky picture he took, meaning it's the first thing to come from the set!

It's the chairs that Hera Hilmar and Robbie Sheehan sit in while waiting for the turn in the sot light.

tom and hesters chairs on mortal engines set

Curiously, Peter Jackson released concept art of Hester Shaw so it looks like things are starting to seriously get into gear for the movie.

So the real question is when do we get the trailer!?

Mortal Engines concept art of Hester Shaw looking towards London

mortal engines concept art of hester shaw and london

Peter Jackson has released the first official piece of Mortal Engines movie concept art!

It features our gal Hester Shaw observing the traction city of London from a distance.

The image does a great job of trying to convey the scope and size of London. Hester is standing far away, yet the mechanical beasts still seems huge.

At the top of London stands Saint Paul's Cathedral and under it, Medusa!

Sharpely honed observers will note the flying devices around London's clouds. One looks to be an air-balloon based vehicle, the other triangular one look more like a bird or kite.

We wonder if this picture depicts Hester as she's about to make her way onto London to carry out her assassination plan. We love that scarf and jacket combo Hester is working, it really complements her red hair!

The designer for this work was by Nick Keller who did a lot of the design for the film.

How does Mortal Engines end? Who dies?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017
who dies in the end of mortal engines

Beware this posts discusses the ending of the novel of Mortal Engines - and given the ending of said book, most of points covered will very likely take place in the movie.

You have been warned.

So how does the book end?

There are many moving parts to the plot of Mortal Engines. There's basically two story arcs that interweave a bit before they collide right at the end.

The first is the story of Tom Natsworthy and Hester Shaw and how they meet Anna Fang, encounter the Shrike, discover a few secrets and return to London.

The second in the story of the people on the Traction City of London, notably the relationship between Katherine and Thaddeus Valentine and the Mayor of London City, the great jerk of a guy, Magnus Chrome.

Just what is the big secret?

These story arcs collide in much the same way that Batman collided with the Joker in The Dark Night. Something about when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object...

shrike mortal engines
I like Shrike

So to cut to the chase, here's what happens in the ending of Mortal Engines. 

The Medusa weapon is revealed to the people of London and with it Mayor Chrome's intention is to use the weapon to destroy the defenses of the Anti Traction league and for his city to devour all of the settlements sheltered behind them.

Young Katherine learns from Valentine that the weapon was originally found by Hester's mother, and that he had killed her to steal it for London. 

He also admits that Katherine was likely Hester's half sister. Disillusioned, and horrified by the destructive power of the weapon, Katherine and Bevis conspire to plant a bomb on Medusa to try and stop it from being used again. 

Thaddeus Valentine is revealed to have infiltrated the league disguised as a monk, and despite Tom recognizing him and attempting to sound the alarm, he succeeds in crippling their entire fleet of airships which means the plan to attack London by airship is thwarted. 

Valentine duels with and kills agent Ana Fang, before escaping in his own airship, The Thirteenth Elevator to return to London. 

Tom and Hester take Ana Fang's ship and fly it back to London in the hope of stopping Valentine and the MEDUSA themselves. 

Katherine and Bevis are caught in their attempt to bomb MEDUSA, but the historians guild come to their aid, battling with the City Engineers. 

Tom and Hester arrive, and the latter attempts to fight her way to Valentine in order to avenge her mother, but is captured. 

Tom is attacked by Valentine's personal airship above London and shoots it down. 

Bevis is killed in the fighting action but Katherine reaches Saint Paul's Cathedral with her bomb. 

Inside, she sees Hester brought before Valentine. When he attempts to kill her, Katherine jumps in the way and is fatally wounded by her own father.


Katherine then falls onto a keyboard, interrupting the firing sequence of MEDUSA, and causing it to malfunction so much so that it looks like it's about to blow up.

Hester leaves with Tom in the Jenny Hanover while Valentine chooses to stay behind in London. 

The MEDUSA weapon finally misfires, destroying most of the city. 

Hester tries to comfort a grief-stricken Tom as they fly away in the airship, apparently the only survivors of the explosion.

  • Magnus Chrome is dead.
  • The Valentines are dead. 
  • The Engineers are dead.
  • The brave Historians are dead. 
  • London is dead




Thus the ending of the novel is that EVERYBODY but Tom and Hester die.

In a sense, there's a certain kind element of dramatic irony at play. The book tells us in its title that the engines are mortal, as are the humans as it's a reference to Shakespeare. And what was the Great Bard famous for?

His tragedies. 

Bleak as heck ending. 

Read it yourself, it's a great end to a great book.



If you manage to make it to the third sequel, A Darkling Plain it is revealed that Clytie Potts and Chudleigh Pomery survived and are living in the ruins of London. What are they doing in there we wonder...

How does the film end?

Does it have a happy ending?

Yes, in a way the book is changed so the ending is more looking towards the future.

To this end, Katherine lives and leads the people of London from its wreck to the people of Batmonk Pah who let them with open arms, despite London having tried to kill them that same day.

Shrike dies of a literal and figuratively broken heart and is not killed by Hester.

Valentine does kill Anna Fang but not in a sword fight on top of the Shield Wall but drops her over the edge of a balcony in London.

We think Bevis lived but we can't be sure.

Tom and Hester do both take the Jenny Hanniver and fly off for adventures unknown.

The House that Jack Built (or is trying to...)

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Set Design for Screen at Wimbledon College of Arts student Jack Pratt has successfully launched a crowd funding exercise for a Mortal Engines Animation Project.

Here's his pitch:

My name is Jack Pratt and I am a third year student studying BA (Hons) Set Design for Screen at Wimbledon College of Arts.

At Wimbledon I study all aspects of the artistic process that goes into the creation of projects for the screen, such as film, tv, music videos etc. and, in my final year, I have the opportunity to bring that all together into one, large project. For this, I have chosen to adapt 'Mortal Engines' by Philip Reeve into a short stop motion animation teaser trailer.

'Mortal Engines' is set in a dystopian future, in the aftermath of a nuclear war that as devastated the earth. Cities move around on gigantic tracks and airships roam the skies. The story follows a young boy named Tom Natsworthy, who lives aboard the traction city of London, and Hester Shaw, a girl from the 'out-country' seeking revenge for the death of her family.

Check out the whole pitch.

Here's the animation so far:

Jack Pratt University Project - Making of update from Jack Pratt on Vimeo.

Let's hope Jack delivers!

LOTR artist John Howe reveals he is a concept designer for Mortal Engines

Wednesday, May 17, 2017
John Howe raven design sketch

Peter Jackson and Christian Rivers are sure keeping things 'in the family' with the production of Mortal Engines.

Famed Lord of the Rings movie concept designer John Howe has revealed that he recently spent 9 weeks in Wellington, New Zealand drawing designs for the Mortal Engines film.

If you were wondering, Howe is considered to Lord of the Rings as Ralph McQuarrie is to Star Wars.

While doing promotional work for his Paris art showcase at the Galerie Arludi, he's been quoted by Premiere as saying:

Premiere: You've worked on Peter Jackson's two trilogies and on the first film, The World of Narnia. Why did not you work more for the cinema?

Howe: "Because I was not asked ... There I have just spent nine weeks on the preparatory drawings of Mortal Engines in New Zealand, the new production of Peter Jackson. The world of novels is extraordinary, very astonishing. It's steampunk, it gets me out of my usual battlements."

Bear in mind, that's a Google translation from French!

Here's some more on working Howe with Christian Rivers:

Premiere: How did you work with Jackson on Mortal Engines ?

Howe: "I have not seen it ! Finally, just ten seconds, he went into the office ... He said, "What are you doing here?" The Hobbit is over! " (Laughs) I worked mostly with the director. I had a rather limited role. I had to explore an environment in nine weeks, that is very little time. I was doing concept sets, parts of the world of Mortal Engines. I can not tell you what. Sorry."

So no details revealed but it sounds like he's probably been doing landscapes and structures (depending on how one defines 'environment' we guess) but it's great to know that the production is using the talent that helped make Lord of the Rings such a wondrous realm.

This statement also gives a great insight into how Peter and Christian are working together - Peter is clearly letting Christian get on with making the movie and making his own decisions, giving him his own breathing space.

It's actually probably a lot like how Jackson produced District 9 but Neill Blomkamp was allowed to find and realize his own vision.

I could be wrong but I think this is also the first time someone officially connected with the production has mentioned the word 'steampunk' in regards to the design and look of the movie. Jackson certainly said nothing about it when he announced the movie.

Check out this book, Myth and Magic: The Art of John Howe if you want more insight into John's design work and why he was picked by Peter Jackson to help with LOTR.

Here's the promotional poster for Howe's exhibition.

john howe poster for exhibition

Peter Yea's concept art of 'The Great Hunting Ground'

Sunday, May 14, 2017
mortal engines huntung grounds design peter yea

Artist Peter Yea has drawn some fantastic Mortal Engines imagery.

He describes is endeavors simply as "Piece of work in comic book style depicting scene from Mortal Engines (2001) by Phillip Reeve. Work completed for Final Year Project at Teesside University."

Yea has put in some great effort.

Here's his initial (hand drawn?) sketch of The Hunting Grounds - where readers of Mortal Engines will know, the Traction Cities like London roam, looking for prey.

sketch mortal engines peter yea

And that was then given the digital conversion treatment:

Peter is clearly a bit of a Mortal Engines fan as he has done a fair bit of work.

Here's his version of the moment Shrike and Tom Natsworthy mortally faced off:

tom attacks shrike peter yea

And here's an awesome version of the Medusa Weapon being fired. You can almost imagine Yea's drawings being turned into a cartoon series!

medusa weapon being fired mortal engines

Here's also a pencil sketch of London:

pencil sketch of london traction city

When in time is Mortal Engines set?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

hester shaw concept art

How many years after the Sixty Minute War does 'Mortal Engines' take place?

Mortal Engines is set in a post-apocalyptic world, ravaged by the so called "Sixty Minute War", which caused massive geological upheaval and the destruction of humanity.

The earthquakes, volcanoes and other geographic instabilities that ravage the Earth destroyed it’s heritage, knowledge and just about every other reference point of history.

This means that the characters found in the Mortal Engines books no longer have an idea of what year it is, or for how long the Earth has been a desolate and desperate place.

The books reveal that many hundreds of generations have developed and much knowledge of the Sixty Minute War has failed to be passed on between. Most things about history and time have been forgotten.

Other than the Traction Cities, the world has had to start from scratch again.

Given the time it would take to forget everything and for time keeping to simply stop, the Mortal Engines book is set many thousands of years after the Sixty Minute War.

Philp Reeve’s ‘The Traction Codex’ has addressed the issue without giving definitive numbers:

“After the Ancients destroyed themselves in the Sixty Minute War, there were several thousand years in which nothing much happened. These were the Black Centuries. The great civilizations of the Screen Age had been utterly swept away, and humanity was reduced to a few scattered bands of savages’

In the end, it’s not the actual number of years that is wholly important. The key concept to understand is that sufficient numbers of years have passed the society that exists now has no connection to the past. It does not have a system of government (other than each Traction City being self-governed).

It does not have supermarkets that do home delivery and it does not have Google Fibre nor Star Wars.

None of these things exist.

So, we don’t think you would be wrong in estimating that Mortal Engines is set some 5000 – 10000 years after the war. Anything less than 5000 feels light due to the time needed for humanity to basically forget itself.

Kiwi actress Frankie Adams is up for a part in Mortal Engines

Saturday, May 6, 2017
frankie adams  expanse

The Expanse's Frankie Adams has been cast in the Mortal Engines movie

Ex Shortland Street and Kiwi actress Frankie Adams is up for a part in the Mortal Engines film production.

frankie adams cast in mortal engines
Adams is going from strength to strength at the moment. Starting out as a character who was a 'whiny brat' on New Zealand's only Soap Opera, Shortland Street, she's a two season veteran of The Expanse sci fi show and had a sweet role in local Kiwi production 'One Thousand Ropes' in 2016.

This will be Adams's first live action role for a Peter Jackson production but her work with The Expanse as tough a nails Roberta 'Bobbie' W. Draper should have her in great shape for this sci-fi movie!

Adam's recently played a motion capture role as the Boulan Empress in Luc Besson's new film, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planet.

The work was done at none other than Jackson's Weta Workshop!

Adams is of Samoan heritage and stands at 180 cm tall.

References to gods and religion in Mortal Engines

Friday, May 5, 2017
airhaven mortal engines

What gods and religion is in Mortal Engines.

In the Mortal Engines book series the popular religions of our world, such as Catholicism, Islam, and Judaism do necessarily exist as formally functioning entities.

They have been lost to thousands of years of time.

But time does echo in the strangest of ways. 

Given humanity seems to have a need for religion or its themes as a way to explain things, it's with no surprise that the humans that live in the era of Municipal Darwinism have created new religions and some with elements of the 'old religions'.

Even if they think Mickey Mouse and Pluto are gods. 

Yes, that's right.

Due to some miss-translation and interpretation about the gods of the 'Ancients' who lived before the 60 Minute War, the people of London's traction city think that Disney's greatest icon is indeed a god.

They have plastic statues of Mickey Mouse and his dog Pluto.

False gods if there ever were!

But who is the real god of London? 

Nicholas Quirke.

Now who is he?

First referenced in the Mortal Engine novels, his character appears in the Fever Crumb Series as 'Nicolas Quercus'.

He is remembered in the time of the Mortal Engines Quartet by the name of Quirke and regarded as a God by decree of Mayor of London, Magnus Chrome.

Taking the iconography (?) of Christmas Trees at Christmas, the people of London have 'Quirekemas trees' which have shining lights on them, just as humans do to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Thus Quirkemas Day is to celebrate the man who was responsible for beginning the Tractionist Era post the 60 Minute War.

Municipal Darwinism

So we can't talk about Quirke without talking about the concept of Municipal Darwinism. This way of life for traction cities has taken on an almost spiritual life path and borders on a being a religion of its own and is a key theme of Mortal Engines.

Indeed for its followers, it is considered dirty and wrong to set foot on bare earth, and "unnatural" for cities to be stationary. While it's not a core religion, it's a fundamental part of the mentality of Tractionists and for many of them, it drives their very existence. 

Letters to Clio

In Greek Mythology, Clio is the daughter of Zeus. Considered the 'Muse of History.

In the first novel, Katherine Valentine visits the Temple of Clio on London to try and make sense of the things she has learned about her father and the Mayor. Clio has personal resonance for Katherine as Thaddeus Valentine's villa is named "Clio House" for the goddess.

Amusingly, the characters in the Mortal Engines series often take her name in vain as they swear in frustration.

Goddess of Death 

As Tom lies probably dying having been shot by Professor Peabody in a Predator's Gold, Windolene whispers quietly so as not to alert the Goddess of Death to Tom's misfortune by speaking too loud.

Street of Ten Thousand Deities Gods of Ice

The Margravine of Anchorage city, Freya Rasmussen prayed to these gods.

Sky Gods

Doctor Oenone Zero passed by Temple of Sky Gods, the Golden Pagoda of the Mountain Gods, the Apple Goods and the 'silent house' of Lady Death. She ended up saying a praying to Jesus, 'a god nailed to a cross'. Refer page 157 of Infernal Devices.


Phillip Reeve freely mentions things from our realm in our books. Poskitt is referenced as as a god in Predator's Gold. This is a reference to Kjartan Poskitt, a friend and the author of books that Reeve has illustrated in the past.

Saint Paul's Cathedral - does this mean there's Christianity in Mortal Engines?

If the old religions are gone, why was Saint Paul's Cathedral retained on London for so long? No one really knows. It was there for thousands of years before it was turned into the housing base for the Medusa Weapon by Magnus Chrome.

There's no apparent reference to it being used for religious or Christian purposes by the citizens of London.

Infernal Devices ultimately reveals that Christianity has actually managed to perservere, mostly in Africa. Dr Zero / Mrs Naga prays to a christian god so in Reeve's world, the key elements of that religion have survived.

The Guide to the Traction Era by Philip Reeve suggests that the people of Zagwa once strongly followed a faith called Wakunkite but this was eventually superseded by Christianity.

In Fever Crumb, Ted Swiney swears 'Cheesers Crice', a reference to Jesus Christ.

A Web of Air

The city of Mayda features a conflict between religion and reason - to which Fever prostrates herself in front of a priestess who worhsips the ocean to keep Arlo Tuesday's location and discoveries secret to protect

London drawing by Tim Denby.

Just who the hell is Sophie Cox?

Monday, May 1, 2017
Sophie cox mortal engines movie


Sophie Cox in an Australian actress who has what is hopefully her BIG BREAK with a role in Mortal Engines.

Other than a couple of Episodes in the long run soap opera Home and Away this is Sophie's first movie gig.

What better way to start your silver screen career than in a Peter Jackson production!

Here's Sophie hanging with Sheehan and some good company!

No word yet on what part Cox is playing, however it's Not Hester and it's NOT Katherine Valentine.

Anyways, She's playing Historian Clytie Potts?

Cox's acting CV describes her as a graduate of Queensland Uniiversity with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting and during that training she's taken a turn at several theater roles.

These included Masha Prozorov in Three Sisters, followed by her role as Portia in Julius Caesar directed by Jennifer Flowers, as Juanita Howard in Splendor in the Grass, The Director in Mnemonic and Linda Washbrook in A Chorus of Disapproval.

We look forward to her screen debut!
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