By Philip Reeve
Published by Oxford
ISBN 978 19 274275 9
Philip Reeve is best known for a four-book series, Mortal Engines, which won a slew of young adult fiction awards a few years ago. Now the author is back with a thrilling and original novel that took him 10 years to write. Railhead is a vast sci-fi adventure set in a society that sprawls across a galaxy.
Outer space and alien planets have been somewhat neglected in young adult novels of late, as dystopian and post-apocalyptic settings have obsessed novelists and screenwriters. However, the film rights to Railhead have already been sold to Warner Brothers, suggesting that Hollywood might also be getting a bit tired of churning out the same old stuff for teens.
Reeve's trademark imagination is in top gear in this gripping space saga. He is brilliant at creating his own worlds, and his ideas about what might be "out there" are dramatic, yet easy to believe.
Railhead is set in a far-flung universe where the planets are connected by thousands of gates and linked by indestructible rails - the Great Network, which carries snake-like trains through space in seconds.
Zen Starling is a young man who makes enough money to look after his sister and mother by stealing. He loves the thrill of outsmarting the shopkeepers on whatever planet he can get to by hiding on one of the trains that travel across the galaxy. The Great Network is Zen's playground - until one day he finds a strange girl following him. She is an android sent by the mysterious and powerful Raven to do an important job for him. Raven has been observing Zen's thieving skills, and wants to use them for his own gains.
Zen soon finds himself talked into pretending to be a member of the galaxy's ruling family, the Noons. He is also told that he has to steal some very valuable art from their private train.
Zen is pulled further into Raven's evil plans, which include getting total power over the galaxy - of course! - and wiping out the Noons.
There is a lot going on in the 300 pages of this novel, which even includes a glossary at the end in case you miss something.
Reeve's world-building is superb. With many twists and turns along the track and high-octane action all the way to the thrilling climax, Railhead never lets up on delivering the thrills and creativity readers expect from a story like this.
Here's hoping this is just the first of many Great Network stories to come.
John Millen can be contacted on