Saturday, 15 November 2008

Mortal Engines and Dead Cold

Two shortish book reviews today. The first is Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. This YA book was a 'gold' winner in the Nestlé Book Prize, won the Blue Peter book of the year award, and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Children's Book of the Year award. All in all I think that's enough awards for me to include it as a title in the list of my books for the Awards challenge being hosted by

Tom, an orphan, is an apprentice to the Guild of Historians in London. But this is no ordinary city of London. This is London centuries after the sixty minute war and this London, like many other cities and towns in the world, travels - on wheels or tracks. And it eats other, smaller towns in order to keep going. One momentous day Tom prevents the murder of his idol, Valentine, head of the Guild of Historians and famous archaeologist. The would-be murderer, a teenager like himself, is Hester Shaw, grossly disfigured in the face and out for vengeance. Instead of being lauded as a hero, circumstances intervene and Tom suddenly finds himself falling down a waste-chute. When he comes to, he is alone with Hester Shaw in the Out-country and London, his home, is disappearing into the distance. Disenchanted as he was with his life, this is not what he wanted. Who is this girl and what is her reason for wanting Valentine dead? And, more importantly, how can he possibly return home?

Quite easy to understand why this one won all its awards - it's a cracking tale! I think it's described as YA fantasy but, to my mind, its post-apocalyptic setting is more akin to sci fi not fantasy. Whatever its label, it's an excellent, pacey read. Very imaginative - who would have thought of moving cities? - with good characterisation and many twists and turns. And, like J.K. Rowling, Reeve doesn't hesitate to kill off his characters when necessary... quite shockingly in some instances. Be warned! I've just started the second book in the series, Predator's Gold, and there are two more after that.


Next up, Dead Cold by Louise Penny, the second book in her CI Armand Gamache crime series.

The setting is, as with the first book, the village of Three Pines in Quebec, about an hour and half from Montreal. During a curling match, out on the frozen lake, with the whole village in attendance, CC de Poitiers is murdered - electrocuted to be exact. No one is terribly sorry, her husband, daughter and residents of village all hated her. So the list of suspects is as long as your arm - and who is this woman anyway? Why are there no records of her childhood anywhere? Gamache is pleased to be back in the village of Three Pines and, along with his assistant, Beauvoir, and various officers, one of whose loyalty could be questionable, sets about solving this most complicated of mysteries.

Hard to emphasize enough how much I enjoyed this book. It takes place around Christmas, with an extremely snowy setting, so I'm thinking that this atmosphere is probably what appealed to me most about it. It's wonderfully done to the point where you can almost feel the intense cold. That said, the plot is nothing to sniff at either. The twists and turns keep you turning the pages, wondering what will happen next. I changed my mind about whodunnit around six times and up to the end didn't really know for sure. There's also quite a nice background story going on with a conflict between the charismatic Gamache and one of his superiors; I'm assuming that will continue in the next book which is The Cruellest Month, set in Spring. The first two were Autumn and Winter, the fourth book, The Murder Stone, is just out and set in Summer. Great read for crime buffs... and even though I'm not one (although I am starting to rethink that), I absolutely loved it.



Val said...

"Dead Cold" is new to me and sounds just the thing for the season! Thanks for the review, I'm putting it on the library list,but perhaps I should try the first in the series to begin with ?

DesLily said...

Setting most high Fantasy aside:

since you live in England do you find you read many books "because" they take place in England?? (just wondering)
I've always had a fondness for the British accent, loved many British actors/ actresses and am drawn to many books that happen in England or are about a British person etc. Not sure why but I seem to like them over stories that happen here in America.. I was just wondering

Cath said...

Hi Val, nice to meet you. Yes, I would definitely start with the first in the series. It's called Still Life and is set in autumn. I had a look back in my archives to see what I thought about it and the post is here if you want to have a look.

I've added your lovely blog to my blogroll.

Morning Pat! No, I don't purposely choose books set in England. Perhaps I read more set here because that's what's available, but truthfully, I don't mind where books are set. I really enjoy books set in America and Canada though, I will say that. And I'm sure that's because I love North America so much. So I understand exactly what you mean.