Philip Reeve explains the stories of Anna Fang in Night Flights

Thursday, July 5, 2018
anna fang drawn by ian mcque

Here's author Philip Reeve giving us the inside scoop on how the new short story collection Night Flights came to be - serving as a promotional tie-in for the forthcoming Mortal Engines movie, the novel gives the coolest character in the series a very strong back story.

Over to Philip:

The original idea was just to re-publish an existing story, Traction City, with a lot of new illustrations. But while I was in New Zealand last year I talked to Jihae, who plays Anna in the Mortal Engines movie, and it made me realise we need More Anna Fang. So I thought a group of stories about her, at different points in her life, might be a more interesting idea. It would have been nice to do five or ten, but I was busy writing Station Zero at the time, so I settled on three. 

Here’s a brief description of each. I’ve included some of Ian’s pictures, but only as thumbnails – you really need to see the book to appreciate them in their full glory.


The first of the triptych is the story of how Anna Fang escaped from the slave-holds of Arkangel by building her own airship. It’s a tale which was referenced several times in the Mortal Engines quartet: Anna mentions it to Tom in the first book, and we hear it from Stilton Kael’s point of view in Predator’s Gold. 

But both of them are unreliable narrators who have twisted the facts to reflect better on themselves (or maybe in Anna’s case just to cut a long story short). Now, for the first time, the truth can be told… I’d written and cut various versions of this from various books in the quartet, so it’s nice to find a home for it at last.


An earlier version of this story was published as Traction City, a World Book Day book in the UK back in 2011.  It’s been fairly heavily rewritten to place Anna at the centre of events. 

It’s set about twenty years before Mortal Engines, after Anna’s escape from Arkangel but before she joins up with the Anti-Traction League, and most of the action takes place aboard London, which is dragging itself over what’s left of the Alps in search of fresh prey on the plains of Italy. 

Little do most Londoners realise that they have picked up a very sinister stowaway…


In Mortal Engines, Anna mentions in passing one of her previous missions, to the island of Palau Penang. 

Palau Penang anna fangCombined with an idea that came up while Jeremy Levett and I were brainstorming predator towns for The Illustrated World of Mortal Engines, it sparked off this, the only completely new Mortal Engines story I’ve written since Scrivener’s Moon. Anna is older in this one, much closer to the Anna in Mortal Engines and an intelligence agent for the Anti-Traction League.

One of the problems of working up a throwaway remark into a full-length story is that it shows up the paucity of my original research. Is ‘Palau Penang’ meant to be modern-day Penang? I dunno – it was just the first name that sprang to mind when I was setting up a cheap’n’cheerful raisin/sultana joke, it never occurred to me that I’d be actually setting a story there twenty years later. 

After much fussing over atlases, I decided that it MIGHT be some much-altered future version of Penang and, equally, it MIGHT NOT. (Palau Penang means ‘the island of the areca nut palms’ I think, so it could well have been applied to another island by the time of Mortal Engines.) 

Wherever it is, Anna’s mission there leads her into dangerous waters and an unexpected alliance. Perhaps Anna Needed a reverse osmosis water purifier to make the water safe to swim in?


All these stories are – hopefully – linked seamlessly together by the conceit that they are incidents Anna remembers while stopping at Airhaven on her way west to investigate London’s mysterious movements on the night she first meets Tom and Hester. 

When I was writing Mortal Engines she seemed like an enormously important character, but once I’d trimmed the manuscript down into its final, published form she had surprisingly little page-time. I hope these stories will work on their own for people who may not know Mortal Engines, or know it only from the movie. 

But I also like to think of them as a sort of expansion pack, restoring some of the lost AF backstory which I lopped out twenty years ago. If you’re re-reading Mortal Engines you could try stopping when she first appears, reading Night Flights, and then carrying on, with a bit more of Anna’s background coloured in.

Order Night Flights from Amazon. It's out in the UK now, and North America in September.


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