Tuesday, January 15, 2019

MORTAL ENGINES by Philip Reeve

Rating: Did Not Finish (but the scenery was nice)

Highlight of note: The setting is seriously creative. It doesn't make sense, but you can't say it's mundane.

This title may sound familiar. Peter Jackson recently made a movie about it. It's the weird looking one with the cities that are inexplicably mobile and go around fighting for resources while being powered by who knows what.

I feel like I'm being horribly snobbish to this book. The setting was amazingly creative. I didn't connect to it though, being completely unable to think of any reason a post apocalyptic society would take existing cities and put them on moving platforms. Make moving cities from scratch? Maaaaaybe? Perhaps if it was another world entirely and not this one evolved it would have been easier to believe? I don't know. It didn't really work for me, but I tried to ignore that.

It was nearly impossible for me to get into this book, though, because in addition to not really buying the setting, I was too busy being snarky about things like the protagonist being a messy-haired small-for-his-age orphan drudge in service of a guild full of bullies to get into it. But, really? Reeve came up with a setting so creative as to be officially bizarre and he gave it to a cliched stock character? Seriously? But, yes, he did. And before you point out that so did JK Rowling, I'm going to acknowledge that, yes, Rowling did the same thing, but she did it with more talent both for effective prose and for dialogue.

Reeve's writing isn't bad. But it isn't brilliant either, certainly not brilliant enough to make up for bland characters who speak more like English professors than teenagers. The final straw came when the Interesting New Girl, who is both hideously disfigured and part ninja, described her tragic backstory in a detailed and practiced way that didn't seem even slightly organic or true to how a revenge-bent teenage warrior would speak to someone she just met.

I only made it through maybe a fifth of the book before giving up. Maybe that wasn't fair. Maybe the rest of the book makes up for a start that had me rolling my eyes so often it's amazing I don't have a headache. But I have another book that needs to be returned to the library in less than a week and I'd rather put my energy into reading it than hanging around longer in hopes this book grows on me.

Below you will find the notes I made while reading. They're spoilers, so don't read them if you want to read the book so that you can tell me how very wrong I was to abandon it.



page 13 
Okay, this setting is really unique and creative, nearly to the point of being too bizarre to understand. But the main character? He's small for his age, has messy hair, is treated like crap by his superiors, was abandoned by his parents, and appears to only be known by name to people who want to bully him, so he'ss about as cliche as a protagonist can be. (Later correction: he was not abandoned. They died. Horrifically.)

page 14
Okay, would types of people know the MC's name: bullies and the older, intelligent, perfect girl I assume is the love interest. 

page 23
The head of this unfortunate orphan's Guild is half Indian Jones and half Dumbledore. But less compelling than that sounds. And not very trustworthy. I'm going to bed now. 

page 34 
It looks like I was wrong to think the first perfect girl was the love interest. I may also have been wrong about it being the second perfect girl. I suspect it's actually the hideously disfigured girl. (Who would be perfect except her face is scarred.)

page 41 
Nope, disfigured girl is not the love interest. I'm now certain it is Perfect Girl #2. Despite her and the MC knowing each other for all of fifteen minutes, during which her father didn't leave them alone, they are now separated and pining." 

page 45
No, I changed my mind again. Tragically Disfigured Girl may be the love interest. But I don't think I actually care to figure this out. I'm going to bed now and probably won't pick this up tomorrow.

Final Note
I am officially abandoning the book. The main reason I'm going to cite it that when we were finally given an interesting character, her back story was presented as a narrated info dump using language that implies she's a serious writer who dedicated a lot of time to this narrative, rather than being a teenager spontaneously answering a very personal question. 

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