Anthony Horowitz on an utterly compelling and child-friendly story…
It has taken me almost twenty years to make an impression in the world of children’s books. Philip Reeve did it overnight, and deservedly, with this quite wonderful fantasy.
He imagines a world of the future, long after the chillingly-named ‘Sixty Minute War’, when London has been redesigned as a vast wedding cake on wheels, rumbling across the ruins of the mud flats below, preying on the smaller towns and villages that cross its path. He tells the story of Tom Natsworthy, a 14-year-old apprentice, who becomes involved in conspiracy, a search for a secret weapon – and murder. I suppose what I most envy about the book is the way that Reeve has managed to marry the hugeness of his imagination with an utterly compelling and child-friendly story line. Nothing needs to be explained. Some of the storytelling has a pleasantly old-fashioned feel to it. Tom is an orphan. There’s a bully called Herbert Melliphant and a Lord Mayor ‘as thin as an old crow, and twice as gloomy’. This is no criticism. It’s precisely this familiarity that guides us through the swirl of original ideas.
And every chapter brings new surprises. A heroic father turns out to be a killer. A room for the night becomes an invitation to slavery. A hideous, metallic creature – Shrike – sets off into the night. You can feel the energy of the narrative as strongly as the engines that drive London forward.
My 12-year-old son was given this book for Christmas and we read it together … the short chapters with their many unexpected twists make it perfect for bed-time reading. I cannot believe – after Pullman and Potter – that this will not make it to the big screen. I can imagine Terry Gilliam directing. And if anyone’s looking for a screenwriter to adapt it, I’m certainly available.
Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve is published by Scholastic (0 439 97943 9, £5.99 pbk). Anthony Horowitz’s latest book is Scorpia (Walker, 0 7445 8323 3, £5.99 pbk, April 2004).
Photograph of Anthony Horowitz by Des Willie.