The Mortal Engines Quartet is an award-winning, critically acclaimed series of novels by the English author Philip Reeve, marketed (somewhat ridiculously) as The Hungry City Chronicles in America.note possibly because of the Stanislaw Lem anthlogy that was released as Mortal Engines in the US Four books were written in chronological order: Mortal Engines (2001), Predator's Gold (2003), Infernal Devices (2005), and A Darkling Plain (2006). Prequel books set many centuries before the first book are currently being published. Fever Crumb (2009), A Web of Air (2010) and Scrivener's Moon (2011) are out so far, with more to come.Mortal Engines takes place in a post-post-post-post-post-apocalyptic Used Future. Nations no longer exist, except in the lands of the Anti-Traction League. Traction Cities - entire cities mounted on caterpillar tracks for mobility - are fiercely independent city-states, using giant jaws to devour one another for resources in a horribly unsustainable city-eat-city environment known as Municipal Darwinism: large cities eat small cities, small cities eat towns, towns eat suburbs, and everyone eats non-moving or "static" settlements. Trade is mostly accomplished by airship, though sometimes cities of roughly equal size (unable to devour each other) will stop to trade. Much of the Applied Phlebotinum involves Old-Tech, ancient remains of lost civilisations ranging from statues of Mickey Mouse ("animal-headed gods of lost America") to Forgotten Superweapons.Traction Cities' military and ideological counterpart, the Anti-Traction League, is a vast Eastern coalition of static settlements, who aim to remove the abomination of Traction Cities from the world.Something worth mentioning, given the amount of back-and-forth editing in the page history, is that the most prominent Stalker is named Shrike in most editions and Grike in the North American ones. For Theme Naming reasons made clear in Fever Crumb - that is, all the Stalkers in his 'batch' were named after birds - 'Shrike' (a small predatory bird) makes considerably more sense than 'Grike' (a feature of limestone pavements).Peter Jackson and WETA Digital are currently working on a film adaptation of the first book, Mortal Engines, though the release date remains uncertain.
Aerial Canyon Chase: In Predator's Gold, Tom flies an airship at street level through a moving city to lose the pursuit. One of the airships chasing him does crash.
Aerith and Bob: Let's see. There's Freya... Shrike... Gargle... Smew... Fishcake... brothers Lego and Duplo... Oenone Zero... Nabisco Shkin...Tom...
A lot of names in the series, given the distant-future nature, are well-known brands or companies to us, but whose meaning has been lost. Notably, names like Windolene and Napster. Also, Reeve admits to naming a handful of the characters in Mortal Engines after towns and locations around his home, hence names like Chudleigh and Miss Plym. Furthermore, the Lost Boys almost exclusively get named phenomena related to aquatic life, water, or fish, like Gargle, Remora and Fishcake. And yes, there are more 'normal' names like Hester, Tom, Thaddeus, Katherine and Anna.
After the End: The Apocalypse is here known as the Sixty Minute War, and was by all accounts an hour to remember: the North American continent gets glassed, Central America is completely wiped off the map, geological instability causes new chains of volcanoes to spring up all over the place, and humanity is thrown into centuries of anarchy and barbarism.
Airborne Aircraft Carrier: Airhaven is an entire floating town, complete with docking for more conventional airships, so it counts.
More conventionally, several of the larger military airships probably count.
All Hail The Great God Mickey: Literally — the first book has Tom running past statues of "...Mickey and Pluto, the animal-headed gods of lost America."
Apocalypse How: Though humanity's back on its feet (15,000 or so years will do that for a civilization) the Sixty Minute War had such massive environmental effects and dumped so many nukes that south China was flooded, Antarctica de-frosted, seas moved around, pretty much everything north of New York City froze solid, Australia seems to have vanished (though Word Of God says he just never got around to writing anything about it) and Panama ceased to exist. Not flooded, severed and destroyed. Class 2, verging on a class 3a.
The Stalker Fang attempts a Class 3a in A Darkling Plain.
Apocalypse Not: Hits hard in the third and fourth books as more and more cities are depicted and the lands of the Anti-Tractionists are revealed to cover swaths of Asia and Africa, sort of turned back on itself as the previously unmentioned wider human civilisations are in the process of annihilating each other in a stalemate war.
Applied Phlebotinum: Old-Tech can be jewellery, can be useless but shiny rubbish, can be city-melting superweapons, and can make cities fly. Almost nobody can tell the difference.
And I Must Scream: Aspects of this in stalker technology. Individuals do not find rest in death, i.e. Anna Fang / Kit Solent, but instead are nightmarishly brought back to life through creepy old-tech (there are some gruesome descriptions of how this happens). What makes it eligible for this trope is they often remember who they were, and quite possibly are unable to destroy themselves for various reasons - such as due to tinkering done to their brains. They must endure as half-preserved, monstrous killing-machines.
Also Tom, as can be seen on the second book cover.
And, to a lesser extent, the London Engineers and their white rubber lab coats.
Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Deliberately and avoided by Hester Shaw, who is horribly scarred and disfigured. As in missing an eye, most of her nose, and a good chunk of her mouth.
However, she's also something of a murderous psychopath in the later books.
Base on Wheels: Base? Pff. City on wheels. Really BIG cities on wheels.
On a much smaller scale, A Web Of Air features funicular houses, which only move up and down on rails.
Betty and Veronica: Although they don't meet until the very end of the book, Katherine Valentine and Hester Shaw can be seen as this. The second book plays the trope straight with Freya Rasmussen and Hester Shaw.
Beware the Nice Ones: Although Bevis Pod is genuinely nice, Katherine is still shocked to see how calmly he can kill.
BFG: Hester gets a huge armour-piercing jezail in A Darkling Plain, which also features lightning guns and anti-city artillery.
And let us not forget MEDUSA the giant laser weapon and ODIN the Kill Sat.
Bilingual Bonus: Lots of these in German, French and Chinese, in particular some of the city names.
Chekhov's Gun: The seedy in Mortal Engines, which Tom finds at the very beginning of the book and later uses as a payment to be accepted aboard a town.
Early in the same book, Katherine mentions that her father's copilot during his expedition to America was a woman, which enables her to figure out the link between her father, Pandora Rae, and Hester Shaw much later.
The Tin Book of Anchorage in Infernal Devices.
In A Darkling Plain, Wolf Kobold pays Tom and Wren so they fly him to London. At the very end of the book, Wren remembers the money and uses it to buy her own airship.
Combat Pragmatist: Hester uses basically anything she can find as a weapon, including crossbows, BF Gs, knives, swords and a typewriter(!).
Colony Drop: Slow Bombs are remote-controlled asteroids.
Cool Airship: The Jenny Haniver. It's built of junk, but hey, so's the Millennium Falcon. A connection noted by Tom's "It's made of junk!" comment upon first seeing the Jenny.
Crazy-Prepared: Cynthia Twite. Not only did she have a time bomb under the ship should her assassination fail (And it did), but she also already forged the suicide note for that guy she killed using her poison-tipped hairpin which she had for such an occasion.
Early-Bird Cameo: After a fashion. An aviatrix named Cruwys Morchard is mentioned in passing early in the second book; she's a significant player in the fourth and she's actually Clytie Potts from the first book, who everyone assumed died in the destruction of London.
Feet of Clay: Both of Tom's heroes. Nimrod Pennyroyal is the slightly nicer. Relatively: he shoots Tom in the heart, eventually causing his death, Small Name, Big Ego version. Thaddeus Valentine is the nasty, nasty kind.
However, Valentine is the more likeable character, almost a Tragic Villain, while Pennyroyal is as despicable as Gilderoy Lockhart characters tend to be.
From what we know of air technology in Mortal Engines, Arlo isn't going to complete his aeroplane but then he does. It just gets destroyed and the technology banned by religion, making this a bit of a Shaggy Dog Story. Some of his comments on 'bird roads' and such do indicate that he has an impact on flight though.
For Science!: The Engineers in Fever Crumb. They're still some of the most ethical characters in the entire book. Despite, ironically, trying to avoid emotions and other "irrational" things.
Friendly Enemies: Naga and Kriegsmarshal Von Kobold. Naga sends his rival a gift of a bullet-proof vest enscribed with the words 'sorry we missed you' when he learns that the Kriegsmarshal survived an attack from a Green Storm sniper. The Kriegsmarshal, in return, considers Naga more likable than some of his allies in the Traktionstadtgesellshaft.
Future Imperfect: Plastic idols of Mickey and Pluto, "animal-headed gods of lost America."
America, incidently, was first discovered in 1924 by Christopher Columbo, the notable detective and explorer.
Reeve is just fond of this trope in general - "blog" is adopted as profanity in Fever Crumb.
And, of course, in the same book, the "Hari Potter" cult throw away gag.
Gadgeteer Genius: Dr. Popjoy for creating Stalker Fang and Dr. Zero for re-resurrecting and improving Shrike to kill the Stalker Fang.
Gambit Roulette: used a couple of times; it seems just about everything is helping Anna Fang, resurrected as a cyborg Stalker get the control codes to the superweapon.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: about triples in quantity in the third book. Particularly when Wren is trying to get aboard Harrowbarrow to delay it from eating New London, and is caught by some of its soldiers: "One of the men searched her for weapons, more thoroughly than Wren felt was really necessary (surely they must know that you couldn't hide anything very dangerous inside your bra?)."
Although never explicitly mentioned, its obvious that Tom and Hester had (or almost had, due to an interuption) sex right before confronting the Stalker Fang in the last book
Good Scars, Evil Scars: Played with. Hester has some truly hideous scarring on her face and is... complicated. Her extreme moral ambiguity really stems from her scarring and the event that caused it.
Grey and Gray Morality: Both well-played on both sides, and deconstructed in that some people act out of selfish reasons. Surprisingly enough, there are a few Jerk Ass characters who are simply in it for themselves.
Growing Up Sucks: Hester, Tom, Wren, Theo, and every single last one of the Lost Boys. Arlo Thrusday to a lesser extent.
He Also Did: The author wrote another steampunk series, Larklight and its sequels. They feature British Stuffiness, an amiable giant crab, a close-knit family, an equally close-knit band of very pleasant Space Pirates, a giant blue lizard in a crinoline, a Ninja Maid, and an entire race of Nice Hats. Not an entire race of people who wear nice hats, an entire race of people who (most of the time) are nice hats. We suspect antidepressants.
Heroes Want Redheads: Tom has had crushes on Katherine Valentine and Freya Rasmussen, but the only one he has ever loved is Hester.
After falling forArlo Thursday, who has black hair, in A Web of Air, Fever falls in love with Cluny Morvish, who has flowing dark-red locks, in Scrivener's Moon.
Heroic Sacrifice: Katherine Valentine in the first book. Also, Naga in the last one.
I Am Your Father: Thaddeus Valentine and Hester Shaw, though neither acknowledge it to the other.
I Did What I Had to Do: Magnus Crome, in particular (I wanted to make London strong!), but also Hester, Thaddeus Valentine, Oenone Zero, Shrike, Anna Fang, Wolfram von Kobold... Usually just makes things worse for everyone.
Idiot Ball: Theo Ngoni does some pointlessly stupid things in A Darkling Plain.
I Have No Mother: Wren pretty much cuts off all ties to Hester at the end of the third book, and never sees her again.
Implacable Man: All Stalkers, but especially Shrike, who gets; hit by multiple times an emplacement-weapon grade Tesla cannon, buried for centuries, torn apart, shot (ineffectively), stabbed multiple times by many different people and other Stalkers (likewise, though Tom manages to put him into a sort of hibernation for fifteen years by ramming a sword into his damaged chest), Battle Frisbee-d (makes sense in context) blown up, run over by a city (literally), dropped out of an airship into a frozen lake, and and is still alive in the Distant Finale, where he tells the story.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Hester in the first book. In the following ones, she's still this, but only with the people she cares for.
Karma Houdini: somehow played and averted with Pennyroyal: he never paid for shooting Tom and stealing the Jenny Haniver but at the end of the last book, his reputation is ruined and he spends a fair amount of time in prison. Though he does get released and married eventually, nobody ever trusted him enough to publish the one truthful book he wrote, not even his wealthy wife.
Killed Off for Real : Employed liberally; a great number of major and minor characters get the chop, usually quickly and horribly. In the first book alone, Shrike, Anna Fang, Thaddeus Valentine, Kate Valentine, Bevis Pod, Magnus Crome, and pretty much the entire city of London die. Partly subverted as in the course of the second, third and fourth books, some of these characters turn out to have survived or have been Stalker-ized, but then at the end of the fourth book (before the Distant Finale) Pomeroy, Naga, Stalker Fang and, last but not least, Tom and Hester, die.
Layered Metropolis: London has become this in Mortal Engines thanks to Quirke, who transformed it into the world's first mobile city. The 7th tier houses the engine district, while St Paul's Cathedral sits on the uppermost tier.
Lightning Bruiser: tractions cities are very fast(London hits 100 kmph in the first book), and when armed for war can pack insane amount of firepower and armour.
Kill Sat: ODIN (Orbital Defense Initiative), used to obliterate cities and make volcanoes.
Made of Iron: Shrike, who survives being run through with a sword, falling into a ravine, and being run over by a city, among many many other things. In fact, he's actually older than the Traction Era itself, and has lived through it all.
Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Subverted. At the beginning of the first book, Tom dreams of being pulled from his dull life into a wild adventure possibly involving a pretty girl. He does, but the girl is far from pretty and the adventure will leave him more homesick than ever.
Meaningful Name: Anna Fang may be from the German "anfang", meaning "beginning"; some characters' and vehicles' names may be meaningful (such as the airships Jenny Hanniver and Shadow Aspect, or the steam powered-ram ship Supercolider), but others are just as often meaningless (there's a minor character called Lurpak. Yes, really. And his first name is Cat.)
Tom Natsworthy, probably because he starts out as a mere good-for-nothing apprentice.
In Greek mythology, the medusa was a half-woman half-monster creature who would turn anyone into stone if they looked directly at her. The MEDUSA from Mortal Engines does do this after a sort ( it's mentioned that there are carbonised statues of people on the lower levels of Panzerstath-Bayrouth, the city London fries with MEDUSA, that were flash-cooked by its intense heat), but it mostly just kills everything in it's path.
In Northern mythology, Odin was the one-eyed god of death. This about says it all.
Minored In Ass Kicking: The Engineers in Fever Crumb don't let a complete lack of combat skills stop them from showing just how effective they are in a crisis. See Crowning Moment of Awesome.
Parental Substitute: Anna Fang is hinted to be seen as this by Tom and Hester: in the first book, a conversation with Anna reminds Tom of his late mother, and in the second, Tom and Hester put a picture of Anna in an alcove aboard the Jenny meant for pictures of parents, though this is partially do to neither of them having any pictures of their own.
Also, Shrike wants to be this for Hester and often refers to her as "his daughter".
Shipper on Deck: Tom likes to tease his daughter about her relationship with Theo Ngoni.
Schizo Tech: Heavier than air flight is literally re-invented in the series. It's primitive and unreliable, whereas drive systems that can move entire cities at motorway speeds across uneven and often constantly shifting terrain are universal.
Hot air balloons are reinvented in Fever Crumb. Though they only get one use.
In Web Of Air The City Of London adopts a policy of killing off anyone researching flight and later an ongoing policy of creating religious prohibitions against it, because it represented a clear danger to the new traction city.
The Green Storm takes this Up to Eleven. Expect to see massive air-destroyers with tech modern humans won't develop today, dropping kamikaze Tumblers and firing more guns than a fleet of AC-130s, providing backup to cavalry armed with machine guns and Killer Zombie Robots while they're being strafed with armed Wright Flyers, which are in turn coming under attack from undead birds and fighter airships. Yes, seriously. Like an F-16 in airship form.
Shout Out: Almost too many references to name, recalling all kinds of fact and fiction.
The city of Brighton has an aircraft guidance system consisting of a large wheel with lights on it. It's called the "Pharos Wheel", as in Ferris Wheel and Tower of Pharos.
Two mechanics in the mercenary fighter squadron "Flying Ferrets" are named Algy and Ginger. These are two major characters in the British book series Biggles, which was about fighter pilots.
Again, the steam-ram ship Supercollider. "Collider" is a specific type of particle accelerator.
London is based on the real London, complete with St Pauls and a vertical transport parodying the Underground.
Brighton is likewise full of references to Reeve's hometown.
And not very flattering references. Reeve has mentioned that his later-created city of Mayda is in part a reflection of the nicer side of Brighton.
Wolverinehampton, an ugly place with huge jaws, is a predator city named after Wolverhampton.
Tunbridge Wells has become an amphibious town known as Tunbridge Wheels.
Grimsby is thought lost, deep under the ocean.
Many German cities have their original names with titles like "Traktionstadt" (traction city), "Jagdstadt" (hunter city) and "Panzerstadt" (literally "armoured city", recalls Panzer, German for tank) added, such as Panzerstadt-Weimar. Bilingual Bonus.
Shoutouts involving vehicle names include:
The 13th Floor Elevator, Thaddeus Valentine's armoured airship, is named after a sixties psychedelic rock band.
The Flying Ferrets fighter Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Machiney is named after a popular song involving a bikini.
The airship Shadow Aspect is named for an archetype in Jungian psychology.
The airship (and centuries earlier, boat) Jenny Haniver is named after the nickname given to fake mermaids often seen in curisoity shops. Fitting, as both vessels are actually made of scraps from others.
The Green Storm airship Hungry Ghost is named for a traditional Chinese festival.
The Green Storm airship The Sadness of Things is named after a painting.
The limpet Ghost of a Flea is named after a painting by William Blake.
The limpet Naglfar was a ship in Norse mythology made of the toenails of the dead.
The "Mokele-Mbembe", named for an African legend about a (relatively) small jungle sauropod.
The Green Storm parallels the Cultural Revolution; this is most apparent in some of the slogans and revolutionary songs that are named.
The actors at the travelling theatre in A Web of Air worship a goddess named Rada.
Some of the ancient technology- the 'seedy', a shiny round platter, as well as references in popular books to 'eye-pods' which stored music on thousands of tiny gramophone records. Also the buses in Fever Crumb require the passengers to buy the shell of an oyster in order to ride one.
Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism. Way, way over towards the "cynicism" end. The very, very few optimistic characters (Tom, Wren, possibly Oenone Zero) are shown again and again to be completely out of their depth, while the pessimists, nihilists, slave-dealers, compulsive liars, juvenile delinquents, mechanical horrors and violently depraved psychopaths are in their element. And somehow, it WORKS.
Steampunk: Often lumped into this category though it really doesn't fit the Steampunk definition very well. Furthermore, Reeve dislikes the genre for its backward-looking-ness.
Street Urchin: The Lost Boys are half Oliver Twist, a quarter Jack the Ripper and a quarter Stingray, living in a submerged city and looked after by "Uncle", a delusional Fagin-esque techno-wizard in pink bunny slippers with steel toecaps. They're really not very nice people at all.
Tastes Like Purple: Fever, like all Scriven, is a synesthetic, meaning she can see scents.
Temporary Love Interest: Kate Valentine, who gets accidently and brutally killed by her own father and Freya Rasmussen for Tom. Also, Wolf Kobold for Wren.
That Man Is Dead: "I am not Anna Fang. We are wasting time. I wish to destroy cities."
The Chick: Tom and Wren Natsworthy, probably the only main characters who aren't happy with theft, violence and casual murder.
In the first book, Katherine Valentine and Bevis Pod, in contrast to most of the Londoners.
In the second and third, Freya Rasmussen, in contrast to Hester.
Tin Man: The Engineers are revealed to be this in Fever Crumb. Most of the time they're The Spock but when it matters they've got their sensitive side even if they don't really know how to deal with it. Hell compared to the cutthroats and ruffians that take up most of London's screentime they're practically The Chick. Which is ironic, as Fever Crumb is the only female Engineer, EVER.
Together in Death: Invoked by Hester at the beginning of the second book. Played straight at the end of the fourth.
Tomboy and Girly Girl: Philip Reeves likes to contrast Hester with a much more feminine character in each book: Katherine Valentine in the first, Freya Rasmussen in the second and the third, and even Hester's daughter Wren in the third and the fourth.
Tragic Villain: Valentine ultimately turns out to be this by the end of the first book.
Used Future: Played believably, once you accept the basic premise is cities eating each other.
Villain Protagonist: Hester Shaw, though it all depends on how you see the Anti-Traction League as opposed to London. By the end of the book she's definitely not a villain in any sense. In later books, she sort of slides back down toward the villain side of things.
War Mammoths: The Arkhangelsk use these in Scrivener's Moon.
World Half Empty: The basic premise is living on a giant mobile city, eating cities smaller and slower than you and running away from bigger ones. If your city gets taken by a bigger and meaner one, it will be taken by force, completely looted, stripped down for raw materials and its population enslaved.
In the third and fourth books, the antagonism between Traction Cities and the Anti-Traction League turns into a total war between the Traktionstadtgesellshaft, a union of militarised German cities and their allies, and the Green Storm, a band of psychotic air-pirates who overthrow the previously peaceful League leaders and turn it into a totalitarian state obsessed with the annihilation of cities. Aboard any Traction City, even non-militarised pleasure cities, you're liable to be blown apart by man-piloted heavy bombs, fleets of giant airships and psychotic undead cyborgs armed with finger-blades; fighting for the Green Storm, you're likely to be either piloting one of the bombs or attempting to fight conventional battles against war-rigged mobile cities, and if (when) you die on the battle lines, may have the bad luck to get your corpse turned into one of the aforementioned psychotic undead cyborgs and have to do the whole stupid thing again.
Wretched Hive: Brighton after the Lost Boys take over is described as this.
Zeppelins From A Post-Apocalyptic Future: Heavier-than-air flight has all but died out and been replaced by airships. However: Ornithopters and gyrothopters have just been reinvented in A Darkling Plain, used effectively by the Flying Ferrets. In A Web of Air, heavier-than-air flight is achieved by Arlo Thursday and then promptly crushed to prevent it being used against the newly-created traction cities.