I recently completed the four books of the Mortal Engines series (Mortal Engines, Predator’s Gold, Infernal Devices, and A Darkling Plain). I was drawn in by the premise — that whole cities have gone mobile, something like giant tanks, and have taken to eating each other — but it was the depth of the love stories that drew me to finish it.
Yes, I said “love stories”, but these were so far from the typical fluff that often connotates. Yes, these are billed as “Young Adult” novels, but the emotional depth of them is far beyond what that billing might suggest too.
The first novel, Mortal Engines, is probably closest to the “Young Adult” billing: most of the characters that pull the story along (Tom, Hestor, Katherine, and Bevis) are ~15 years old and have various shifting love connections between them. But what ultimately drives the story is the love of a father (Thaddeus Valentine, nominally, the “bad guy” of the story) for his daughter, Katherine; his singular desire is to give her a comfromtable life. Too late, he realises he has become the “bad guy” as he has compromised himself in his quest and surrounded himself with evil, and is neither strong enough or brave enough to face that evil straight on. In the final tally, it costs him everything.
The second novel, Predator’s Gold, is perhaps my least favourite of the set, but due to the other books being as fantastic as they are, rather than any particular flaw here. The “love story” revolves around a (very “Young Adult”) potential love triangle (Hestor and Freya, with Tom between them, all ~17 years old), and the extremes that a flawed Hestor will go to keep the man she loves as hers alone.
The third and fourth novels, Infernal Devices and A Darkling Plain, are best read as a pair. The overall story breaks well enough between the two books, but Infernal Devices ends on a sequence of notes that make Hestor look flawed beyond redemption, something that she doesn’t (entirely) deserve. The follow-up, A Darkling Plain, doesn’t completely redeem her, but does reveal her motivations and left me wondering if I would be her if I had faced the struggles growing up that she had. The love story here is deep and rich, exploring the love of a mother and father for their child, enough to drive them to search the ends of the earth for her, against all odds; it explores the rebelliousness of youth contrasted the desire for the security and comforts of home; and it explores how love can fail with time and what it takes to revitalize it. And although the story focuses on Tom, Hestor, and their daughter Wren, the arcs of many of the surrounding characters (Fishcake, Anna, Shrike, Uncle, Cole, and more) go through satisfying explorations the meaning and implications of our relationships to those around us as well. Indeed, in the very last chapter, Shike goes from a one-dimensional paper cutout killer to perhaps the deepest character of the series, exploring what it means to love someone after they are gone but you are not, and how to go on; it provides a remarkable and deeply satisfying capstone to the series.
How much of the power of these “love stories” comes from a reflection of my own life, of my own “love story”? Perhaps much of it. I cannot say how much power the story would have on one without the experience of life.
The stories are also “tragedies”, perhaps not in the classical Greek sense, but in the sense that that very, very few of the characters we follow in the story get the happy ending they want. Not in an overly cruel way, but in the ways that real life so often can let you down. The balance here, on the whole, was very finely done; it’s the sort of thing I wish I could one day do.
So the stories are worth a read, and well past your own “young adult” years.
There is the prequel Fever Crumb series that I look forward to reading; I hope it can live up to these stories.