Lynn: One of my most-favorite literary elements is world building—that endlessly fascinating imaginative device that asks, “If this, then what?” If magic was real and there was a school for young wizards, then what? If monsters existed and needed a secret branch of MI6 to deal with them, then what? Is there anything more fun than watching these ideas take flight to a wondrous new place?
There aren’t many authors better at building worlds than Philip Reeve; his creations seem at once astonishingly original and startlingly real. In one of my favorite series, Mortal Engines, huge tracked cities rolled across a devastated earth, the world building an intricate wonder. Reeve’s new book, Railhead (2016), takes readers back to the future. This time, the setting is something called the Great Network, which encompasses hundreds of planets, K-gates, galaxy-spanning tracks, and the sentient trains that travel them. The control and stability of the system and the resources it provides dominate every political decision made among the ruling families, the police-like Railforce, and a mysterious group known as the Guardians hovering in the background.
A strange figure named Raven recruits the poor young thief and train aficionado Zen Starling to pass himself off as a member of the ruling Noon family and steal a box from the imperial train. Soon, Zen is on the run across the Network with Raven’s assistant Nova and everyone on their trail. Reeve gives us intriguing glimpses of the worlds through which they pass. He peoples this universe with a fascinating array of figures, like Malik, the Jean Valjean-like figure after them, sentient trains, Hive Monks made of thousands of cooperating beetles, train painters. Along the way, readers will ponder questions about intelligence and creativity and what defines human.
This is a taut page-turner of a space adventure made infinitely richer by Reeve’s brilliant world building. I hear a sequel is already underway. Thank the Guardians!