Book Review: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

I finished Mortal Engines three weeks ago, but between procrastination and sleep deprivation and more procrastination I didn’t get past the basic outline of this review. So. Today I’m gonna fix that. But, fair warning, this review might not be as orderly as most because I don’t remember details well and I forget books annoyingly fast.

Overall rating: 3 stars

So first off, I’d just like to ask WHY ON EARTH DID THEY CHANGE THE MAIN CHARACTER WHEN THEY ADAPTED THIS TO FILM??? Just watching the trailers for the movie (which is what got me into the book to begin with) spoiled the first twist in the book. That was annoying. Anyway, in the book, the main character is Tom Natsworthy, who I really like and who seems to have been relegated to love-interest status in the movie. (But I could be wrong, since I’m basing that assumption off the trailers alone.) Hester Shaw, the MC in the movie, is the secondary main character. And if I remember right, she doesn’t even have as much POV time as Katherine Valentine does? So… yeah. Personally, I think that was a mistake.

Part of the reason I’m annoyed they didn’t keep Tom as the MC is that, in the book, he has a wayyyyy more interesting arc. His entire worldview changes, and personally I think it was written pretty well. Meanwhile, Hester’s arc is… learning she’s not ugly? Except there’s not a natural progression and the only cause I can see for it is a male character learning to love her? So that whole arc was super weak. I’m assuming they fixed that in the movie and gave her a stronger (probably totally different, knowing book-to-movie adaptations) arc. But still. As far as the book is concerned, lousy arc.

Then there’s the second MC, Katherine Valentine. I liked her, but she kept coming across as way younger than she’s supposed to be. I think she’s supposed to be 16/17, but she just kept sounding… I don’t know. Just too young. Partially it was naivety, which fit her character, but there was also just something about her voice that made her seem like she was closer to 14 than 17. :P

In the same section of the story (it was split basically between Tom’s POV and Katherine’s), there’s Pod. I liked Pod. Pod was sweet. But… that was pretty much all he was. He was useful to the plot, I guess, but he didn’t especially have a (realistic) impact on any of the other characters, so he kind of fell flat and felt one-dimensional. And this was fairly representative of all the side characters. They were just kind of… there. They didn’t really have much impact on things. With one exception, which I’ll get into later.

NEITHER OF THE VILLAINS WERE INTIMIDATING. AT ALL. And if Valentine was supposed to have a redemption arc, it didn’t work. Both villains were cowardly at best and flat at worst. The big bad boss dude was way in the background and didn’t do any damage. Valentine… also didn’t really do any damage… I mean sorta. But it didn’t feel imposing or threatening to me. And he was a big ol’ coward, so that significantly lessened the intimidation factor. Overall, not impressed with the villains.

All right, now that I’ve talked about a whole bunch of the bad… Let’s get into some good, shall we?

I loved the worldbuilding. I was intrigued by the idea of cities on wheels from the movie trailer, but that’s not what won me over in the books. What won me over most were the references to “old tech.” Reeve did an AMAZING job of portraying what people in the future would think of the tech/society/pop culture of today, and it was a lot of fun to read about. I’m not so sure about the religions he invented (I really don’t think we’re going to all be worshiping the same handful of gods that didn’t exist before this point, or that no one will be part of existing religions, and if we weren’t supposed to assume that there are no other religions in Mortal Engines then the currently-existing religions should probably have at least been mentioned, if the future religions were going to be a normal part of everyday life.), but otherwise the worldbuilding was fun.

Now to the one side character who was not boring: Anna Fang. Anna was a lot of fun, and Reeve did a great job of giving her memorable quirks. And the explanation of her teeth–while not clear, per se?–was cool and semi-believable.

As a final note, there are a handful of lines in this book that made me laugh out loud. Although it was late, so I’m not sure how accurate a representation of their humor that is. What I remember clearest is this exchange:

…he couldn’t find his shirt at all, until he crawled closer to the scarred girl and realized she was busy tearing it into strips that she was using to bandage her wounded leg.

“Hey!” he said. “That’s one of my best shirts!”

“So?” she replied without looking up. “It’s one of my best legs.”


Overall, there wasn’t quite enough to the book to make it especially memorable, but it was fairly enjoyable to read once. There might be some mild language to warn of, if you decide to read it (I don’t remember). I think there might have been one or two kisses. Tom is briefly shirtless, but not for any reason other than that Hester needed to bandage her leg. There’s a fair amount of violence and death. Otherwise, I think it’s clean.

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

  1. Exactly what my thoughts were of this book! And yes, I was SO TICKED WHEN I SAW THE TRAILER. I’m considering watching the movie just so I can rant to an empty room about it….

  2. I liked the movie because of Tom, but he was not the main character so now reading your review of your book I am surprised about that! Anyway, I think it is worth it if for him (even though it is probably WAY different than the book). :D

  3. Hmmm…sounds like it might be worth a try someday. That snippet is GOLDEN, however. That alone about sold me the book. Haven’t seen the movie yet, and seeing as I’m waaaaaaaay behind in movies, I probably never will. But since PJ directed, I might get around to it.

    1. Yeah, I adore that snippet. XD Hester has a couple of lines like that, though I can’t remember the others now.
      If you get around to reading/watching it, let me know what you think! :)

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