Dark pasts and light hopes at the end of the fantasy world

Dark pasts and light hopes at the end of the fantasy world

A Web of Air
By Philip Reeve
Published by Scholastic
ISBN 978 1 407117 59 1

Mortal Engines, Philip Reeve's steampunk novels set in a ruined world many centuries into the future, have already won many awards and fans all over the world. This highly impressive quartet stands out in recent youth fiction for its originality, creative settings and exciting storylines. It's the perfect story for a movie version - Studio Ghibli, are you reading this?

Two years ago, Reeve published Fever Crumb, a prequel to the series about a heroine by the name of the title, and now comes A Web of Air, the second adventure of the engineer heroine. Fever's aim is "to make her own life and her own discoveries" in a dark world where engines and their inventors are quickly gaining power. She was raised by the Guild of Engineers in London, but decides to escape their grip and follow her own instincts.

At the beginning of A Web of Air, 16-year-old Fever arrives in the coastal town of Mayda-at-the-World's-End aboard a theatre-barge. She is working as a theatre company's technician and has recently introduced electric lighting effects into the company's performances. Reeve is an expert creator of character, and Ambrose Persimmon's acting company is a veritable Dickensian troupe.

Fever can hide behind the theatrical goings-on on and off the barge, which suits her perfectly. She has her own reasons for wanting to escape war-torn London and head out to Mayda-at-the-World's-End. No one here knows her and she can move forward exactly as she wants.

Another of Reeve's strengths as a novelist is his talent to imagine vivid settings, and his creation of Mayda, where houses move up and down the streets on runners and angels fly through the air, is masterly. A movie set-designer would have most of his work already done for him by Reeve's descriptions of this extraordinary coastal town at the end of the world.

Fever's talents as an engineer are noticed by of one of Mayda's residents, a reclusive young man called Arlo Thursday. Arlo's tragic past has made him a social outcast, but he has a secret that Fever soon discovers. Arlo is building a machine that will make people fly. He believes that centuries ago, before humankind almost destroyed the world, people used to travel in machines that flew through the air. Arlo wants to unlock the secrets of flight, and he needs Fever to help him.

A Web of Air works perfectly well as a stand-alone novel, and is also a good introduction to one of the most notable youth fiction series of the moment. Reeve's novels are international bestsellers, and A Web of Air will delight existing fans and earn him many new ones eager to find out more about what happens in the ever-so creative fantasy world of Mortal Engines.



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