Inspired by the recent release of a movie by the same name, I decided to read the book before I went to see the movie in theaters... only to discover I was too late to see it in theaters, and I'll have to wait until it's released on TV, acquired by the local public library, or available to stream through Netflix or Amazon. *sigh* First-world problems.
I think this book has one of the most captivating opening scenes I've ever had the pleasure of reading - or at least, the most captivating opening scene I've had the pleasure of reading recently.
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.
That opening line, that right there, had me hooked. Even if I had not gone on to read the next line immediately (and I'd be a fool if I hadn't) I think I would have been dwelling on the world conjured by that line for many hours afterward. This opening line sets the world, the pacing, the mood, and even the theme of the entire book, and I am in awe of the mastery on display here.
(I think you might already be able to see where this is going. You can skip down to the star rating if you're getting impatient with my gushing.)
After that opening line, I had high hopes for the rest of the book, including the characters, and they did no disappoint. Each character was vivid and alive, with their own opinions and biases (which is actually one of the book's many themes) and motivations for doing things. It's fantastic. The dialogue was, I think, a little lackluster in places, and there were times when the narrative would switch abruptly from past to present tense, and that was disorienting, often jarring me out of the the book entirely as I tried to understand what I was reading. That said, it's possible it's one of those things I will appreciate more when I go back and read it a second time.
One of the things I appreciate especially about this book is that, even though it's the first book in a series, it's a contained narrative, and can be read as a stand-alone story (which I did). The ending is open, so you can definitely see where a sequel can hook up with it, but it's like a truck with a trailer hitch. The hook is available, but it doesn't need another book to finish the story it started telling. The truck can be used as a truck, and it doesn't need the trailer to function.
If you like the worldbuilding and description of Tolkien and the pacing of Harry Potter, then I think you'll like Mortal Engines. It's very post-apocalyptic, but that's not the plot, it's the setting. It's in the background, and it has its fingers in every pie, but it's a flavor, not the whole dish.
Now, before I let these analogies run away with me:
I'm giving this book 4 our of 5 stars, because of those moments where I was jarred out of the narrative. The world and the characters were so vivid, they drew me back in, but I shouldn't need to rely on books to draw me back in - I would like to not be jarred out in the first place.
Onward to more books and more worlds!