21 May 2006

Mortal Engines's bumpy Atlantic crossing

While I was in England a couple of years ago, a good friend recommended that I read Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines. I'm glad he did so then because I never would have picked up the US hardcover edition, from the EOS imprint at HarperCollins. The US dust jacket managed both to prettify the book (hiding the heroine's facial scar) and make it look ugly. Granted, it was bad luck to put out a jacket featuring a tall structure billowing smoke in 2001, but a color palette that runs from tan to chocolate isn't terribly attractive, even if those muddy colors fit the book's description of the ravaged Earth.

For the softcover edition, EOS picked up Scholastic UK's jacket art, shown here. EOS tried again with an all-blue jacket for the first sequel, Predator's Gold, but seems to be throwing in the towel. It's adopted the British art for
Infernal Devices, the upcoming third book in what it's calling the "Hungry City Chronicles" series. Meanwhile, in Britain the series is up to four volumes, festooned with readers'-favorite awards and no need for a name besides the author's.

Mortal Engines begins with a sentence designed to pull you up hard:

It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.
In this dystopic world, the world's big cities have been mounted on huge tractor treads and move around the surface of the Earth like predatory animals. The class system within London has gone vertical; the elite live in fresh air at the top levels and oppressed workers toil below. But don't get too worked up about such inequality. The book isn't a tract but a thrill ride.

Mortal Engines felt like a summer action movie, full of spectacular destruction bursting out of scenes contrived for maximum suspense.
In a nod to steampunk, there are airships aplenty. I didn't find the characters--naive, bookish, high-born male teen; scarred teenaged female outlaw out for family revenge; coolly capable Asian female pilot; and so on--to be as intriguing or innovative as the setting. But of course the setting is especially interesting because it doesn't just set there.


fusenumber8 said...

The American hardcover edition of "Mortal Engines" drove me batty as well. I spent the entire book trying to figure out when the attractive redhead featured on the cover would appear. I'm still waiting...

Anonymous said...

Actually, the first softcover edition of MORTAL ENGINES featured the wretched hardcover artwork. It was only with the paperback of PREDATOR'S GOLD and the forthcoming hardcover of INFERNAL DEVICES that the UK art was picked up. And why? Because it is swashbuckling and fun and truer to the stories within the books. Whoever packaged those first two books had some different ideas as to what the covers should look like; when the a new editor took over the series (same editor who brought over Frances Hardinge), he had the entire series repackaged.