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September 19, 2012 / milesandhisfavorites

The Best of The Hungry City Chronicles

I absolutely love Philip Reeve’s The Hungry City Chronicles (Or as they’re known in the UK, Predator City.  Which is cooler.).  I may love Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy, but to me, this is the better steampunk series.  It takes place several thousand years after a nuclear war has devastated the planet.  Now, mobile towns and cities drive across the radically changed world, hunting each other for scrap and supplies.  There are also resurrected soldiers, airships (this is steampunk, after all), a huge anti-moving city force called the Green Storm, and a ton of other cool stuff.  But as great as the four books (Mortal Engines, Predator’s Gold, Infernal Devices, and A Darkling Plain, in that order) are, not all books are written equal, so there has to be a best and a worst of the series.  But this is going to be tough.  So let’s talk about what each book does right, and not so right.

Mortal Engines follows the story of fifteen-year-old Tom Natsworthy, a young apprentice to the Historian’s Guild of the mobile city of London (the first traction city, but that only matters in the prequel series).  After meeting his idol, Thaddeus Valentine, Tom promptly witnesses an attempt on Valentine’s life by a horribly scarred girl named Hester Shaw.  Then, Tom gets chucked over the edge of London by Valentine.  In case you haven’t guessed yet, he’s the villain.  Anyway, Tom and Hester get into a bunch of interesting situations, and have to prevent London from attacking the borders of the Anti-Traction League (located in what used to be eastern Asia).  So, pros:

  • Excellent setup, with good payoff.
  • Characters with interesting pasts, particularly Hester’s.
  • A very far-off post-apocalyptic setting with a history of new civilizations, which is explored somewhat in the prequel Fever Crumb series.

Cons:

  • Doesn’t build on the setup as much as I’d like.  There are so many great ideas here, and a fair amount are shown here, as well as in the next three books, but I still want to see more stories set at the same time, with varied locations.  What we get is great, but Philip, give us more!

The second book, Predator’s Gold, is even better.  Two years after ***spoilers spoilers spoilers***, Tom and Hester are air traders, traveling around the world (speaking of missed opportunities)… um… trading.  While traveling over the Tannhäuser Mountains, they are attacked by some Anti-Traction League fighter airships, and there is a somewhat awesome chase scene.  Anyway, due to damage sustained because of the battle, Tom and Hester’s airship (as well as their absent-minded passenger, Professor Nimrod Pennyroyal) drifts aimlessly over the vast northern Ice Wastes, eventually getting saved by the city of Anchorage, which has been devastated by a plague.  To survive, the margrave of the city, Freya Rasmussen (Her Radiance, Light of the Ice Fields, etc), sets a course for the dead continent of America, which fared the worst in the Sixty Minute war.  But there are crazy romances, a huge city called Arkangel, and… ghosts?

Pros:

  • Even better setting, with an interesting variety of locations both old and new.
  • Tom and Hester hook up (actually, they’ve been together for the past two years, but this is the first serious confirmation).
  • The first appearance of the main villain throughout the next two, as well as the Green Storm itself.
  • Very interesting twist/setup at the end.

Cons:

  • Tom/Hester/Freya love triangle isn’t particularly interesting, at least to me.
  • Hester becomes a LOT less likable in this one, a trend that will sadly continue throughout the series.

The third book, Infernal Devices, takes place a whopping SIXTEEN years after Predator’s Gold.  Anyway, without giving too much away, Anchorage has gone static, and Tom and Hester had a kid, Wren, who, seeking adventure, steals a metal book from the Anchorage library and gives it to some thieves.  But when Hester intervenes, the thieves kidnap her.  To get their daughter back, Tom, Hester, Freya, and a character named Caul set out to find her.  Their adventures take them from the underwater city of Grimsby to the raft city of Brighton, where they meet (shock of all shocks) the new mayor-Professor Pennyroyal.  Plus, we meet some new characters working for the Green Storm, and a few other things happen.

Pros:

  • Brighton is hands-down the best setting of the series, with a literary fraud as mayor, a band of mercenaries serving as the defense force, and an interesting plot to capture some oceangoing thieves.
  • The new characters, such as Oenone Zero and Theo Ngoni, are interesting and are unique.
  • Wren is likable, even though she’s the one who got Tom and Hester into this whole mess in the first place.

Cons:

  • This is Hester at her worst, going from baddonkey to just plain unlikable and arrogant.  Whether or not that’s the point, it sort of ruins her likability as a character.
  • Sixteen years?!  Are you kidding me?!

The final book of the four, A Darkling Plain, takes place about six months after the events of Infernal Devices.  Tom and Wren have taken to the skies as air traders, while Hester wanders the African desert as a bounty hunter, along with the Stalker Grike, who for some reason (Oenone’s tampering) can’t bring himself to kill.  Meanwhile, the big villain of the series, the Stalker Fang, has found the instructions to an ancient weapon called ODIN, which she plans to use to kill of all of mankind and “make the world green again”.  Oh, and there’s a levitating city and a huge war between the traction cities and the Green Storm.

Pros:

  • The most epic of the series, with massive battles and the fate of humanity at stake.
  • The New London storyline is a good one, even though it forces Tom and Hester to fall victim to my least favorite cliche, long periods of time being summarized in a few paragraphs.
  • The cities of Murnau and Manchester are both great settings, especially because we haven’t been on as many traction cities as I’d like to see.

Cons:

  • Not the ending this series deserves.  I mean *spoiler alert*, Philip just kills off Tom and Hester.  Look, I know it was set up in the second book, but you didn’t need to go all deus ex machina on us, Philip!

So, which one is the best?  Oooh, tough.  While A Darkling Plain was the longest of the books, and had the best story, the ending wasn’t what I wanted, and the end of Municipal Darwinism was such a setup-killer, so that one’s out of the running.  While Mortal Engines had some fantastic setups, I wish it had explored and built on them a little more.  And while Infernal Devices had the best setting, the time span is just too much to handle.  That leaves Predator’s Gold as the best book in the series!  For all its flaws, Predator’s Gold definitely expands on the ideas a little more, and sets up the main conflict of the series.  That’s why I officially dub it the best of the Hungry City Chronicles!

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