Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Darkling Plain by Philip Reeve

Coming in at 559 pages, this final book in The Hungry City Chronicles clocked in almost 200 pages longer than any of the other books in the series. It was incredibly dense. Not a page went by without something important happening. Many times it was a small side comment that would later prove important, or an incredible “aha” moment. I had to force myself to read it slow so I could savor every moment. And boy was it worth savoring. This, my friends, was one hell of a series closer.

Our story begins a few months after Infernal Devices ends. The action starts on page 8 and pretty much doesn’t let up for the entire story. All the massive plot machinations that Reeve put into motion in the first three books come together in a way that will have you holding your breath waiting to see where the next page takes you. It is beautiful and heart wrenching, and, luckily, filled with lots and lots of explosions.

One of the major strengths of this series is that the characters are so wonderfully developed and every character is a mix of good and bad rather than just being one or the other. There is Tom, mostly good who has courage, but is fearful. There is Hester who wavers between the two, becoming darker as the series progresses, but always holding onto a shred of decency (except for that dang third book where she veers off into the purely psycho). There is Pennyroyal, who at the end proves that even a self-absorbed ass can rise above himself on occasion. There is poor Fishcake who made my heart ache more than anyone else in this series, so driven by fear of rejection that it almost consumes him entirely. Surprisingly, the stalker Grike’s character also develops. In this final installment, he no longer has the ability to hurt people. He believes it is because Dr. Zero programmed him this way, but in fact, due to his extremely long life, he is evolving. He’s no longer human (nor has he been for centuries), but he shows that even strikers can have souls.

There are more, but for me, these are the characters I really loved. There are also a host of secondary characters that pepper the pages with their wonderful presence. One of which is Chudleigh Pomeroy, a London historian who proves his mettle in the first book and then graces us with an appearance in the finale. What a warm, wonderful character he is.

And, oh yeah, that’s right baby, after being gone for two whole books, London is back.

Reeve goes out of his way to show that there are no positions in life that can’t be taken too far. One might be “progressive” as our Municipal Darwinists are, or “regressive” as our Mossie Anti-Tractionists are – but most are probably some sort of mixture. I truly enjoyed how neither side was in “the right.” The Green Storm may have been right about how traction cities were ruining the earth, but their militarism and hatred of townies soon showed that might never makes right. And London, previously a voracious traction city, showed that even the most dedicated tractionists do not have to be anti-environment. Good and evil co-exist in all of us and whether we turn to one or the other rests with a million small decisions which lead to more important decisions which determine the course we choose to take.

I found the ending to be incredibly emotional with Grike discovering that his heart’s desire, that which has kept him going, is not to be his, “If Stalkers could cry, he would have cried then, for he knew all at once that this was the right end for her, and that she would not want him to take her from this quiet valley, or from the Once-Born she had loved.” And then, (darn it I’m tearing up as I’m writing this – it just packs such an incredible emotional punch) he sits down and watches over Hester and Tom as their bodies deteriorate, as they turn into bleached bones, and then finally into dust.

Sigh. I’m not sure it gets more bittersweet than that. A completely, and I mean that in every single way, satisfying ending to a most excellent series.

Previously:
Fever Crumb

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Book Source: Library Copy

4 comments:

Madigan McGillicuddy said...

Yes, I kind of had a "book throwing" moment in the third book when Hester loses it... couldn't ever bring myself to go back and finish the series.

Patti said...

The fourth book more than makes up for the third!

Anonymous said...

Hi Patti. I've just finished reading Fever Crumb but haven't been able to get hold of a Darkling Plain yet, but have been and still am riveted by the series. Can't wait for the finale. Two questions. Is 'Grike' in your review a typo and I thought they were stalkers and not 'strikers'? Great review....thanks

Patti said...

Glad you're enjoying them, they are fantastic books. Grike is the stalker's name. No typo!