“Fever was the youngest member of the Order of Engineers, and the only female. Engineers did not have wives or children. But one evening fourteen years before, Dr. Crumb had been called out to a dig on the Brick Marsh by an archaeologist named Chigley Unthank who wanted an opinion on some Ancient artifacts which he’d unearthed, and on his way back he had heard crying coming from an old weed-grown pit close to the road. There, among the bramble bushes, he had found a baby in a basket with an old blanket laid over her and a label tied around her wrist, upon which someone had written just four words: Her Name is Fever. “
And so we are introduced to Fever Crumb, a girl with mysterious origins, on her first assignment outside the Order of Engineers in London. A London that has not yet raised itself up from the ground. What the heck does that mean Patti, you might ask. Well, this here, is a prequel for Reeve’s most excellent Hungry City Chronicles. The first of which, Mortal Engines, is apparently being secretly adapted by Peter Jackson for the big screen (Good God, let this be so).
So like I said, this story is set in a London that is unaware that it is on the cusp of becoming a traction city. 15ish years previous, Skinners (Homo Sapiens) overthrew their Skriven (Homo Superior) overlords. All Scriven were killed, although the fear that some escaped instead has never been far from the thoughts of Londoners. When Fever gets lost in the marketplace she is noticed by a woman who proclaims her to be Scriven (Fever has mismatched eyes). This propels all sorts of things into action. A long-retired Skinner returns to duty. Londoners are whipped into a frenzy of fear and hate. Secret Archeological digs become most important. All this, as the Movement (refugees or invaders depending on which newspaper you read) nears London.
I love how history is treated in these books. Technology is both agonizingly primitive due to forgotten knowledge (no telephones or even radios, for example) while simultaneously being incredibly complex and advanced (traction cities! Robots/ human hybrids! Assassins made of paper!). The Ancients had amazing technology, but most of it has been lost in the passage of time and destroyed in wars. Now people dig for it, it is priceless, some is still used and yet the understanding of it is all but lost.
What trickles down is a muddied history. Nothing is really known and yet you can feel it brimming just below the surface. Some of what Reeve winds into the story is obviously humor for present day readers, like when Fever stumbles across a religious procession in robes and pointed hats that are celebrating an old-world prophet named Hari Potter. Or even favored curse words, such as “cheesers crice,” which is totally nonsensical unless you recognize what it evolved from. Another curse word is "blogger" as in, "you stupid blogger." Another curious stand in. Mr. Reeve are you trying to tell us something? Hmmm?
This is a breathless ride. Fever is rational, as all engineers are trained to be. She aims for reason and emotionlessness in all things. Impossible, obviously, and it leads to many internal struggles as she faces the irrational world outside her sheltered home.
It has been awhile since I’ve read those books, so I inevitably missed things that I shouldn’t have. I couldn’t tell if Fever’s story happens before or after the Sixty Minute War, as there was no reference to it, I assumed before. How far before, I don’t know. I do know that we learn of Grike the Stalker’s origins in this book (WOW! What a payoff), and I suspect more of these characters showed up in the Hungry City books as important historical figures, but I really can’t remember the details of those earlier books. Time permitting I am going to re-read those suckers. Reeve is a genius. His writing is pretty much unparalleled. I’ll leave you with this quote:
You could see how he’d suffered there by the pained, rheumatic way he walked. You could hear it in the steady wheezing of his breath, and the cough that rumbled endlessly down in the wet cellars of his lungs.
Immaculate world building and wordsmithing. These books are a step - more like a league - above the rest. If you have a moment, read Frank Cotrell Boyce’s review. He caught many references that I wasn’t familiar with not being a David Bowie fan.
Book Source: ARC swiped from colleague