Attitude: Take Care → Unobjectionable
Series: Mortal Engines
Published in: 2003
Age Range: Young Teens+
Period: Far Future
Setting: The High Ice, covering what was the Atlantic Ocean
- The people:
- Tom Natsworthy is a former Apprentice Historian, now Aviator in the Jenny Hanniver, making money by trading and ferrying cargo.
- Hester Shaw is Tom's partner and lover, travelling with him. Her face was badly scarred when Chief Historian Valentine killed her father and mother.
- Professor Pennyroyal is a vain and pompous Alternative Historian, author of fanciful books on ancient civilizations and especially America, the Dead Continent.
- Freya Ramussden is the young Margravine of Anchorage, latest in a long line of female rulers of this city, now reduced by plague to a handful of people.
- Widgery Blinkoe is an Old Tech antique dealer with five wives and a sideline in taking money for treachery.
- Uncle is the Fagin-like character in charge of the sunken raft-city of Grimsby from which he sends out gangs of boys in Limpet craft to hook on to unsuspecting cities and steal from them.
- Piotr Masgard is the leader of the Huntsmen of Arkangel, son of the Direktor of that predator city. He and his men fly ahead of the city to disable faster cities and leave them easy prey to Arkangel.
- Anna Fang was one of the fiercest fighters for the Anti-Traction League, killed by Valentine who also sabotaged the League's shield wall and destroyed their fleet.
- The cities:
- Anchorage was the last city to break away from America before it was devastated by the sixty-minute war. Thanks to the Scabious family, its drive spheres have kept it going over the High Ice for hundreds of years, trading with other cities. Its population was reduced to a handful by a plague brought on board with some Old Tech weaponry and it is now easy prey to Predator Cities and Hunter-Killer Suburbs.
- Arkangel is a Predator, paying gold for information as to the whereabouts of other towns and cities on the ice. It relies on the Huntsmen, led by the Direktor's son, to fly ahead and cripple faster cities.
- Wolverinehampton is a hunter-killer suburb, aggressive and tenacious. It will attack bigger towns and cities by biting away their drive wheels, leaving them stranded and open to attack.
- Grimsby is the sunken remains of a predator-raft, sunk by pack ice ninety years before. There, Uncle -- watching everything by means of his crab cameras -- runs gangs of boys to go out in limpet craft and rob cities on the ice.
- Airhaven is a meeting and trading point for Aviators. Most people there will speak Airsperanto.
Chased by the Green Storm, a breakaway group from the Anti-Traction League, Tom and Hester with their passenger Pennyroyal are forced to land on Anchorage, currrently travelling across the High Ice towards its origins in the Dead Continent of America. Freya, the young leader of Anchorage, welcomes them warmly, partly because she believes that Professor Pennyroyal's books on the his travels in America make him the best candidate to guide them there, and partly because she's very taken by Tom.
When Hester sees how close Tom and Freya appear to be, she takes the Jenny Hanniver and leaves the city, only to be captured by the Green Storm who have tried to revive the dead Anna Fang. Tom is taken to Grimsby to take part in Uncle's plans to raid the Green Storm base, while Anchorage is on the run from the aggressive Predator City of Arkangel.
General: The author's imagined world whose ancient history is our distant future is both simple and attractive. The blend of familiarity and novelty is nicely balanced, not unlike a Jules Verne where you have tremendous technology, powering whole cities across the ice, presented in simple forms with brass levers and knobs, silk air envelopes and so on. The engineers have the same enthusiasm and banter as you'd find in some 1940s Boys Own Yarn. (“Your gas-cells are old Thibetan jobs by the look of 'em: those we can't patch I'll replace with some nice RJ50s from a Zhang-Chen Hawkmoth.”) And you've got easily-understood characters such as the Fagin-like Uncle, the young and vain Margravine, and the simple and trusting lovers Tom and Hester.
Modesty & Decency: Tom and Hester sleep together as lovers. At one point, Caul is woken up by Uncle's voice-cam and gets out of bed naked before covering himself with a duvet. Freya tries clumsily and naively to seduce Tom to take him away from Hester. The latter sees them kissing and believes the Margravine has succeeded. Hester is told that her mother had many lovers before she married and that one of these lovers is Hester's true father.
Hester's face is badly disfigured, and Tom's real love for her is demonstrated by the fact that he hardly pays that attention, and notices her instead.
Religion: The different groups of people have different “Gods”, such as Quirke, the God of London (who, Tom realizes, failed to save his city from destruction at the end of the first book) and the Ice Gods of the citizens of Anchorage. Hester several times reiterates that “No one returns from the sunless lands” and prays that the Green Storm aviators they've just forced to crash go soon to the sunless lands. When she meets the revived Anna Fang, she says plainly that all she is seeing is a corpse up-and-about, not the person of Anna.
Violence: Hester is drugged and taken forcibly to the Green Storm base where she is roused by being stripped and hosed down. (Nothing descriptive). Tom is caught in a net and forced at knife-point to go to Grimsby. Arkangel has many slaves, taken from cities it has devoured according to the principles of Municipal Darwinism, humiliated by wearing collars and/or leads, or being whipped in slave-labour gangs. In particular, Masgard employs a pretty former Margravine as a fawning servant. None of this is described at any length.
After Anna Fang's body is used to house a Stalker: an efficient killing cyborg used in ancient wars, it kills all of those guarding it, and the Lost Boys who try to capture it, before taking command of the Green Storm after slicing off the sword hand of its commander-in-chief.
Life & Death: Most people in this future world live in cities roaming across the ice. The laws of Municipal Darwinism dictate that larger cities eat smaller ones, reuse their raw materials and enslave their peoples. Not all cities do this: some are merely traders, others scavengers. But despite the horror of this reality, there's no suggestion that it is anything but an inevitable cycle of nature.
Hester hacks Masgard to death after his (frankly unbelievable) submission to her; she justifies to herself this and other attacks she makes while helping to free Anchorage from the Huntsmen by telling herself that she's Valentines daughter, and (implicitly) entitled to take the same amoral view towards achieving her ends that he did.
Garge, youngest of Uncle's Lost Boys, frees Caul, who is being left hanging until he dies, but when Caul suggests that he use his new-found power to stop bullying among the boys, Gargle simply responds that the only reason he's looking for power is to be able to bully others. It's an odd attitude.
If you could look down on the world from somewhere high above — if you were a god, or a ghost haunting one of the old American weapon platforms which still hang in orbit above the pole — the Ice Wastes would look at first as blank as the walls of Hester's cell; a whiteness spread over the crown of the poor old Earth like a cataract on a blue eye. But look a little closer, and there are things moving the blankness. See that tiny speck to the west of Greenland? That is Anchorage, a screen of survey-sleds spreading ahead of it as it wriggles its way between glacier-slathered mountains and across uncharted stretches of sea-ice. Wriggles carefully, but not too slow, because everyone aboard carries with them the memory of that parasite which stole poor Tom away, and the fear that more might erupt at any moment through the ice. Watches are set in the engine district now, and patrols inspect the hull each morning, searching for unwelcome visitors.
What no one aboard suspects, of course, is that the real danger comes not from below but from another speck (larger, darker) which ic creeping towards them from the east, skids up, tracks down, hauling its great bulk across the hummocked spine of Greenland. It is Arkangel. In its gut Wolverinehampton and three small whaling towns are being torn apart, while deep in its Core, in the ivory-panelled office of the Direktor, Piotr Masgard is urging his father to increase the city's speed.
Thursday 18th March 2004