Friday, February 04, 2005

Reeve: Predator's Gold—Frankenstein, Fagin and Flyers in the Hungry Cities


When I was a youngster, this was exactly the kind of book I yearned to find, a boy's tale of adventure, blood and skullduggery of the kind I read in the works of H. Rider Haggard, Zane Grey, and Robert A. Heinlein. Today's teens can discover that same thrill in Phillip Reeve's series, The Hungry Cities Chronicles.

Predator's Gold is the sequel to Reeve's award-winning first book in this series, Mortal Engines, the further adventures of the scarred aviatrix Hester Shaw, her student-historian lover Tom Natsworthy from lost London, and their airship Jenny Haniver. In Reeve's post-Apocalyptic future, ice fields cover the world—ocean and continent alike—and mobile "Traction Cities" scavenge for Old Tech devices, pirate the few remaining static settlements, and battle each other for survival.

Predator cities such as Arkangel hunt constantly for smaller cities, towns and suburbs (all driving independently across ice and frozen ground). Upon overtaking their prey, the hungry cities scoop them up and swallow them down, cannibalizing mechanisms and buildings, and enslaving the citizens. City-states have replaced nations; "Municipal Darwinism" is the philosophy of the day.

But pickings have become scarce, so the Direktor of Arkangel offers a bounty for news of where their prey might be headed. He has his sights set on the city of Anchorage with its famous Scabious engines. Anchorage, a non-predator Traction City that grazes the ice for relics of lost technology, will be a tasty defenseless morsel for ice-pirate Arkangel, if only they can discover where to find it.

Hester and Tom learn of the bounty offer as they pick up their latest passenger, Professor Nimrod Pennyroyal, a peripatetic con-man who holds Tom enthralled with his tales of green Hunting Grounds he once discovered on the Dead Continent, amidst the icy wastes of America. When the Jenny Haniver lands on Anchorage, Pennyroyal's story also charms Freya Rasmussen, the margravine, who immediately turns her depleted, plague-decimated city west to find this Eden.

Meanwhile, scuttling noises in the air ducts and disappearing artifacts and tools disturb everyone's sleep; and chief engineer Søren Scabious keeps seeing the ghost of his dead son Axel. Is Scabious right, that ghosts come down out of the northern lights and walk the ice, right up into the cities where they once lived? Or is Pennyroyal's story true this time, that a vampire municipality might attach unseen to a Traction City, sucking it dry?

Pennyroyal is not the only one who charms Freya. The young margravine also sets her sights on Tom, and Hester feels unable to compete with Freya's attractions: an unscarred face, an Old Tech museum and Anchorage's well-stocked library. Tom finds himself battling a burglar-king, while Hester must confront the truth about what she has done in anger, and her paternity, before they can hope to save both Anchorage and their relationship.

Predator's Gold brings back many of the elements that made Reeve's first novel so thrilling: reanimated cyborg Stalkers, ruthless Anti-Traction League warriors, and the half-understood power of Old Tech that destroyed London. The non-stop action is a thrilling underpinning to the themes of loyalty and betrayal, and the very human yearning to preserve those we love—even after death.

Move over, Allan Quartermain.

Although it is a sequel, you do not need to read Mortal Engines to enjoy Predator's Gold. The story stands well enough on its own.


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