A Darkling Plain
by Philip Reeve
Review by John Berlyne
Scholastic Press Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0439949971
Date: 20 March, 2006 List Price £12.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Philip Reeve brings his Hungry City Chronicles to a close with what is perhaps the best book in this extraordinary series, A Darkling Plain, published in the UK this month in hardcover by Scholastic. For me, finishing up this adventure has proved something of a bittersweet experience - sweet in that one seldom reads something so sublime, so brilliantly imagined and perfectly executed, but bitter because Reeve has chosen to end the sequence with a finality which would seem to prohibit any future installments. It's a shame therefore to realise that these adventures are now effectively over, but ah, what adventures they were!
The first novel in this quartet, Mortal Engines was published in 2001 and won the Nestle Gold Smarties award as well as a nomination for the Best Children's Book in the Whitbread Award - prestigious accolades both. In Mortal Engines Reeve first introduced readers to his far future post-apocalyptic world where huge mobile cities rumble across the vast dry plains hunting down smaller, slower conurbations and literally eating them. At the top of this strange and richly envisioned food chain was London, one of the biggest and oldest cities and the living embodiment of Municipal Darwinism, the termed coined by Reeve for this extraordinary way of life. Opposing the moving cities and towns is the Anti-Traction League, an equally solid construct of the author's imagination and a social and political system that believes the earth should be returned to a less mechanised state and that the moving cities should be destroyed and replaced with static settlements. These two factions, with their large scale wars and small scale treacheries, form the backdrop of Reeve's ingenious and beautifully rendered storyscape, and against this backdrop, Mortal Engines and it three sequels tell of the adventures of any number of richly rounded, enduring and endearing characters.
To give you specifics on the plot of A Darkling Plain would be cruel and unnecessary, for it would spoil your enjoyment and ruin the many wonderful and unexpected surprises Philip Reeve has in store for you. If you've not tackled this series yet, start with book one and journey through - you'll be very glad you did. This final installment is a truly breathless adventure, an honest to goodness ripping yarn that is a joyous experience for the reader - a chance to breathe in a story of such heart and pathos though its ending will be a painful wrench.
As a reviewer, I must pay tribute here not only to the author, but also to the publisher of this magnificent series, Scholastic - the very same publisher who brought us Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. Though ostensibly Scholastic serves a young adult and children's market, in making available such quality works as these Pullman and Reeve series, they are forming and shaping the readers of tomorrow. Luckily I am already a life-long story lover - but that is entirely due to books like these being placed in my hands as a youngster. Where many decry the modern curses of bad movies and violent video games, Reeve's novels provide an oasis of sophistication, exercise for young minds and budding imaginations. And for those of us already grown, they ignite in us a nostalgia for bracing adventure and the innocence of youth.
Very - VERY - highly recommended.