Study Guide

Mortal Engines

Mortal Engines Introduction

Peanut butter and chocolate. French fries and chocolate milkshakes. Pretzels and chocolate. Futuristic sci-fi and retro technology (and chocolate). You might think these are pretty different tastes, but take it from us: they go great together.

Steampunk is the genre equivalent of a peanut butter cup. Airships in our post-apocalyptic dystopia? We love it.

Philip Reeve's Predator Cities Quartet is a modern steampunk series you may not have heard of, but we're about to change that.

Originally published in 2001, Mortal Engines went out of print in the U.S. for a few years before steamrolling back into bookstores with a vengeance in 2012. This book kicks off the four-volume Predator Cities Quartet, a twenty-year saga of the world set in a time when cities have wheels, airships rule the skies, and resources are scarce (source).

Philip Reeve was an illustrator before he became an author, and his imagination for striking images really shows, all the way from his characters—like Grike, a cyborg stalker with only murder on his mind—to the setting, a half-mile-high version of London on tank treads. Mortal Engines was Reeve's first novel, and it even won a few awards (source).

We can see why: the award-givers were scared of getting crushed by a giant rolling fortress.

There have been movie rumors swirling around Mortal Engines like an out-of-control airship, but nothing's materialized yet. We can totally see this film being a big hit, a combination of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Howl's Moving Castle. Now that would be a blockbuster force to be reckoned with.

This series actually has a lot in common with the incredible His Dark Materials series, which you may have read: there's a kid-versus-the-world storyline, a fantastic setting, shrewd commentary on religion (Mortal Engines is much subtler about it), and both are written by witty Brits named Philip. How can you go wrong?

What is Mortal Engines About and Why Should I Care?

If you've ever found yourself reading a Charles Dickens novel and thinking, "You know what would make this so much better? Airships and cyborgs!"—then you're in luck. Mortal Engines has all the social drama of the Dickensiest Dickensian novel, but with a heaping helping of sci-fi action.

Mortal Engines has all of Dickens's classic hallmarks: social inequality; terrible working conditions; and orphans, orphans, orphans. Sure, you budding social justice warriors can sign up for the Philosophy and Social Criticism journal, but it's probably not going to have any lasers, missiles, or swordfights in it, now, is it? Have a little fun with your social commentary, and take a ride with Mortal Engines.

Mortal Engines Resources

Websites

Predator vs. Predator (Cities)
The official website lets you take a sneak peak at all four books in the Predator Cities series, plus get a gander at the snazzy UK cover art.

Where Have You Been Our Whole Life?
Mortal Engines was published in 2001 (are you just now hearing about it?), but Philip Reeve has been around longer than that. Read his bio, and see what else he's been up to.

Movies or TV Productions

Chomping a Theater Near You
Will Mortal Engines ever roll into theaters? It's a perfect fit for a movie, seeing as Hollywood is a dog-eat-dog world. Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) was once attached to the project.

Articles and Interviews

Q&A with P.R. about M.E.
There's a neat Q&A with Philip Reeve on his website, which answers questions like Will there be more books in the series? and Why is Hester so fugly? Reeve's answer may surprise you.

Casting Against Type
Hester's ugliness seems to be the topic du jour, and Reeve goes more in depth about it here. He also expands on other topics, like where his crazy ideas come from. On top of that, he gives a bit of writing advice.

Video

Not Someone You'd Want to Meet in a Dark Alley. Or a Bright Alley.
Here's a short fan-made video of what meeting Grike might be like. Um, we'll be sleeping with the lights on now.

Would You Like a Ride in This Beautiful Balloon?
Tour the Jenny Haniver in this amazing fan-made render of Anna Fang's airship. There's even a toilet. But where does it lead to...?

In His Own Words
Although this interview is more about Fever Crumb (no spoilers; don't worry) Philip Reeve gives us a few juicy little crumbs about Mortal Engines, too.

Audio

Mortal Engines Meets Shakespeare
You can listen to a ten-minute audio clip read by Hollywood's go-to Shakespearean master, Kenneth Branagh. To flee or not to flee, that is a question Hester and Tom ask themselves often.

Steampunk Podcast
Listen to Philip Reeve talk about... does it matter what he talks about with that soothing British voice?

Images

St. Paul's Cathedral... OF DEATH
Here's what the real St. Paul's Cathedral looks like. Now imagine a glowing ball of mass destruction coming out of the top of that thing. Scary, huh?

Cheap Seats
Cheapside, where Tom's parents died, is a real section of London. You know, it's actually very nice. We'd hate to see it crushed.