Review: Railhead by Philip Reeve (Spoiler-Free)

RAILHEAD5 stars

Philip Reeve//RailheadSUMMARY

Zen Starling is a small-time thief, wandering the Ambersai Bazar and taking what trinkets he can in order to help feed his family, and he hasn’t had too much trouble keeping his head down – until one day a drone spots him, and manages to follow him all the way to his home planet. Even worse, it brings with it a mysterious girl in a red coat, who wants Zen’s help with a heist so massive, it could change the universe forever.

Railhead is the first book in a new series by Philip Reeve, and was first published in October 2015.

STORY [5/5]

The main storyline in Railhead is built around the aforementioned heist – a thrilling adventure in itself – but rather than it being the only important narrative event in the book, it instead provides the building blocks for something much larger… hence my “change the universe forever” comment. Both of these parts of the story are incredibly fun and intriguing, and the way that they were woven together was brilliant. The book did end on a bit of a cliffhanger (which might be off-putting to some people), but I found that that mostly just made me eager to read the sequel (which will be released in October, so there’s not long to wait!).

CHARACTERS [5/5]

The two most important characters are Zen and Nova, and they’re both brilliant, and play off each other perfectly. Zen is a thief, and does his best to live up to all the images that the word invokes – bold, cocky, charming, and always one step ahead – but as the story progresses, we get to see a much more idealistic side to him, too. Nova, on the other hand, is often quite sentimental (not something that I was expecting from a robot), but is much more cautious and practical in terms of her actions; once she’s got a plan, she’s reluctant to change it, even when it’s not a plan that she’s completely okay with. My favourite thing about both these characters, however, is how they developed over the course of the book – changing and being changed by one another.

A few extra mentions: Threnody was a great character, too. I wasn’t a huge fan of her initially, but (again) she was very well-developed, and it definitely looks like her character arc is going to take her in an interesting direction. I also really, really loved both Flex and the Damask Rose – both characters who become important quite late in the story – and, of course, there’s Raven, who was very likeable, but had enough of a sinister vibe that he never quite seemed trustworthy; a perfect balance of heroism and villainy that left me a little unsure how I felt about him. (Which was probably the point. ^^’ )

ROMANCE [5/5]

I had my doubts about the romance, as I haven’t been a huge fan of the relationships in Reeve’s previous books, but much to my surprise, it really worked! Zen and Nova’s feelings seemed to develop really naturally, and I really enjoyed watching them come to realise just how much they cared for each other. The hints at a relationship between Zen and Threnody were also quite interesting, but I’m glad they didn’t come to anything much.

WORLD-BUILDING [5/5]

My favourite thing about Railhead! I loved the detail that was put into all the places and people that Reeve created… the mysterious Station Angels; the Guardians that humans seem to be worshipping almost as if they were gods; the Hive Monks – bugs that are able to become sentient in large enough swarms – continuously searching for their own version of paradise; even the hatred that the people of Cleave showed towards the Motoriks, afraid that they’ll lose their livelihoods to this manufactured workforce… most of these things were only peripherally connected to the main storyline, but the amount of thought that went into them made the world feel incredibly real.

Another really original thing was the trains: I was expecting them to just be a means of travel, but they ended up being so much more! I’ve already mentioned that the Damask Rose was amazing (she was my favourite), but Reeve did an amazing job of making all the trains completely distinct from one another.

WRITING [4/5]

The pacing was great, and the writing flowed really well, making Railhead a very quick, enjoyable read. I would have liked it if the book had been a bit longer, however, so more time could be spent on the final two parts (the heist, and the aftermath of the heist). That said, neither of those sections felt at all rushed, so this little wish of mine is purely because I didn’t want the book to end. 😉

OVERALL IMPRESSION [5/5]

An unexpected gem, with an intriguing story, wonderful characters, and a vivid, imaginative world. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where this series will go next.

RECOMMENDED FOR…

Anyone who’s enjoyed the author’s previous works, or who likes heist stories such as Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, or Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard series. I can’t think of too many other comparisons, though – this book isn’t much like anything I’ve read before…

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Teaser Tuesday #6

Philip Reeve//RailheadTHE RULES:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.
    • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other Teaser Tuesday participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Today I’m reading Railhead by Philip Reeve, one of my favourite childhood authors! I’ve only just started the book, so I don’t really have any idea what it’s about, but it’s got space, and interstellar trains, and plenty of thievery… sign me up! 😛 Also, just from an aesthetic standpoint, doesn’t this book look cool?!

Teaser #1:

He took Nova’s hand, and she pulled him outside, into the disaster that they had made.

Teaser #2:

“I think ordinary people don’t much care who rules them,” he said, improvising, giving her Zen Starling’s opinion in Tallis Noon’s voice. “Whether it’s a Noon or a Prell or some Human Unity president, it won’t make any difference in the streets of Cleave or the Ambersai Bazar. People just want to be left alone.”

[Teaser Tuesday was created by MizB over at A Daily Rhythm.]

My Life in Books

I can’t seem to find (and therefore credit) the person who created this tag, but I was tagged by The Quirky Book Nerd (who has a wonderful blog that you should all check out) – much to my delight! 😀 I’ve had my eye on this tag for a while now (it seemed super-fun), and had actually been planning on doing it soon whether I was tagged or not. It is, however, always nice to be tagged~ 🙂 I hope you enjoy it!

1) Find a book for each of your initials.

K.M. Peyton//Flambards Philip Reeve//Mortal Engines Garth Nix//Sabriel Rick Riordan//The Son of Neptune Tamora Pierce//The Woman Who Rides Like a Man

Flambards by K.M. Peyton
Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve
Sabriel by Garth Nix
The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan
The Woman Who Rides Like a Man by Tamora Pierce

Frances Hodgson Burnett//A Little Princess2) Count your age along your bookshelf – what book did you get?

I’m 26, which (discounting my shelves for study guides, comics and manga, which I usually try not to use for tags) lands me right in the middle of my miniature section of Children’s Classics, where I ended up with A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Anthony Horowitz//The Devil & His Boy3) Pick a book set in your city/county/country.

I don’t think I’ve read any books that are set in Cambridge itself, so instead I’ll go with The Devil & His Boy by Anthony Horowitz, which is at least set in England (and is also a really great book that I don’t mention much!).

Marissa Meyer//Fairest4) Pick a book to represent a place you’d like to travel to.

Can I pick the moon? I’d love to go to the moon. Fairest by Marissa Meyer. 😉

Fredrik Backman//My Grandmother Sends Her Regards & Apologises5) Pick a book that’s your favourite colour.

My favourite colour is orange, which isn’t the most common colour for books… I do own a couple, though, and one of them is My Grandmother Sends Her Regards & Apologises by Fredrick Backman, which has a lovely shade of orange on the spine, in particular. 🙂

J.R.R. Tolkien//The Hobbit6) What book do you have the fondest memories of?

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. My love of fantasy was seeded in me early on in life – my dad used to read this book to me and my sister before bed when we were both little.

7) Which book did you have the most difficulty reading?

George R.R. Martin//A Dance with DragonsProbably A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin, which I carried around in my purse for several months before I finally managed to finish it (I remember it clearly: I constantly had a very sore shoulder from the weight of the book, and I also ended up mangling the dust jacket… :/ ). It wasn’t just that the book was long – I made it through the rest of the series easily enough, and they’re all super-long, too – but most of the book was taken up with either Daenerys or Jon Snow chapters, and they’re my least-favourite POV characters in the series.

David Mitchell//Cloud AtlasDavid Mitchell//The Bone Clocks8) Which book on your TBR will give you the biggest sense of accomplishment to have finished?

Either Cloud Atlas or The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. These two have been sitting on my TBR shelf for a while now, because although I like David Mitchell’s writing, I also find it quite tough to get through. So, yeah, I’ll be pretty proud when I finally manage to finish these. 🙂

9) I tag:

T5W: Favourite Series Endings (Spoiler-Free)

I finished a couple of different series’ recently, so this week’s theme, favourite series endings, is quite fitting, I think. I’ll be keeping this list spoiler-free, so there’s no need to worry if you haven’t got round to reading these series yet…

Garth Nix//Lord Sunday5) The Keys to the Kingdom series by Garth Nix

It took me a long time to finish this series: I read Mister Monday around 12 or 13 years ago, but ended up not reading Lord Sunday until late last year. That said, it was well-worth the wait. The series itself, while fun, wasn’t the most impressive thing I’ve ever read, but the twist at the end was incredibly gripping, and really well-excecuted, which is why it’s earned the number 5 spot.

Stephanie Perkins//Isla and the Happily Ever After4) The Anna and the French Kiss companion trilogy by Stephanie Perkins

When I started considering books for this list, I didn’t think I’d be including any contemporary series, since for most of the ones I’ve read, the books are only very loosely connected, but Stephanie Perkins did a wonderful job of bringing her three romances together at the end of Isla and the Happily Ever After, when the main couples met up, and we got a glimpse of what the future was going to be like for all of them – it was incredibly heartwarming.

Hiromu Arakawa//Fullmetal Alchemist vol. 273) Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa

Long manga series quite often seem to derail as they go on, and end in rather a rush, as the authors hurry to wrap things up before their titles get cancelled, but Fullmetal Alchemist was a glorious exception to this trend, and stayed on point for the entire 27-volume run. The ending was both touching and full of dramatic tension, as Ed and Al finally achieved their dreams, and were able to return home to begin a new life together.

Cassandra Clare//Clockwork Princess2) The Infernal Devices trilogy by Cassandra Clare

This series came ridiculously close to an incredibly unsatisfying ending, and then the epilogue happened – which was a huge surprise for me. Epilogues have rarely fixed bad endings in my experience, and, in fact, can often spoil a good ending (*cough*Harry Potter*cough*). But the way Cassandra Clare tied up this series was absolutely perfect.

Philip Reeve//A Darkling Plain1) The Hungry City Chronicles by Philip Reeve

As far as the main plot goes, I read this series so long ago that I can’t even remember what happened at the end, but I’ll always remember the final moment of the book very clearly. A Darkling Plain wrapped up in the best way that it possibly could, with my favourite character (& a lot of people’s, I think) finally figuring out his true purpose. It was incredibly bittersweet, but still wonderful, which is why it’s become one of my all-time favourite series.

[Top 5 Wednesday was created by gingerreadslainey, and to find out more or join in, please check out the Goodreads group.]

Thematic Recs: Robots!

I watched Wall-E for the first time earlier this week, and it made me feel all kinds of things, in the usual way of Pixar films. But it also got me thinking about how, even though I’m really not much of a Sci-Fi person, I really, really love robots (and cyborgs and androids and their ilk), and often, when I do read Sci-Fi, the robot characters end up being my favourites. So, for your enjoyment, here are a few of my favourite fictional robot (and others) stories!

Philip Reeve//Mortal Engines1) The Hungry City Chronicles by Philip Reeve. A steampunk adventure story, set in a future where huge cities wander around, churning up the ground and eating each other. I mentioned Shrike quite recently in my Top 5 Anti-Heroes post, but he’s definitely worth mentioning a second time. Shrike is a creature called a Stalker; part machine and part corpse, but (to a certain degree) retaining his personality from his previous life.

Marissa Meyer//Cinder2) The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. This is a series of fairytale retellings, set in a future where Earth is on the brink of war with the Moon. The main character, Cinder, is a cyborg (a human with several cybernetic limbs, and a control panel in her brain), and she also has an adorably quirky android friend called Iko.

Garth Nix//Shade's Children

3) Shade’s Children by Garth Nix. Another futuristic novel, but this time a dystopian! Shade’s Children is set in a world where children are raised in facilities, and once they reach a certain age, they’re taken away so their brains and muscles can be harvested to make monsters. The robot character in this one is perhaps not really a robot: Shade himself, who takes in runaway children and protects them, is actually a scientist who downloaded his personality into a computer in order to survive in this world-without-adults.

T5W: Anti-Heroes!

Anti-heroes: You love them, you hate them, you love-to-hate them, you hate-to-love-them (but mostly you love them). This week’s Top 5 Wednesday theme is one I’ve been pretty excited about, since I tend to gravitate towards anti-heroes. And for reference, this is what I consider an anti-hero to be:

Any hero or protagonist who displays traditionally villainous characteristics (e.g. Snape in the Harry Potter series); or any villainous character with heroic motivations, or with whom the audience is very clearly supposed to sympathise (e.g. Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe). Most anti-heroes walk the thin line between being heroes and being villains, and are often difficult to put into either category.

Unsurprisingly, it was a tough list to narrow down, so I’d like to start off with a few honourable mentions: Luke Castellan, from Percy Jackson & the Olympians by Rick Riordan; Rose Wilson (a.k.a. Ravager) from the DC Universe (but particularly as she was portrayed in Teen Titans); and Warner from the Shatter Me trilogy by Tahereh Mafi, who I am liking more and more the further I get into Unravel Me.

But now onto the actual top 5!

Rory McCann as Sandor in HBO's Game of Thrones.

Rory McCann as Sandor in HBO’s Game of Thrones.

5) Sandor Clegane, a.k.a. the Hound (from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire series)

Sandor is one of those characters who seems truly despicable upon first encounter, and he seems to always do his best to promote this idea of him. But the further you get into the series, the more he grows on you (and I, personally, am really anxious to see whether he’ll be showing up in The Winds of Winter). He’s not a main character in the series, and we never see things from his perspective, so most of the insights into his character are gleaned from his interactions with first Sansa, then Arya Stark, the former of whom is terrified of him (but possibly also in love with him), and the latter of whom despises him (but also feels a grudging respect towards him). So there’s a lot of mixed feelings there, but ultimately he’s one of my favourite characters in A Song of Ice & Fire.

Alan Rickman as Snape in the Harry Potter films.

Alan Rickman as Snape in the Harry Potter films.

4) Severus Snape (from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling)

Despite general adoration (which was certainly not discouraged when Alan Rickman was cast as him in the films), I hated Snape for a very long time. The combined powers of fandom and Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows eventually persuaded me to give him a chance, but it was still only very recently that I actually started to like him. Snape is probably the quintessential anti-hero, though: Every book leaves you more and more uncertain as to his loyalties and motivations, and the final reveal in book 7 was both shocking and heartbreaking.

Yassen as portrayed by Damian Lewis in the Stormbreaker film.

Yassen as portrayed by Damian Lewis in the Stormbreaker film.

3) Yassen Gregorovich (from the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz)

Yassen is a Russian assassin who shows up continuously throughout the early Alex Rider books, employed by the various villains that Alex is trying to take down. But although he’s usually just a side character, he’s the most memorable of all the villains in the series, and he probably also has the most character depth. We find out in Eagle Strike that Yassen actually had a history with Alex’s father, and this discovery has a profound affect on Alex’s outlook on things in the later books. Yassen was even the main character in the series’ prequel, Russian Roulette, and it was really great to get a deeper look into the backstory of one of the series’ most mysterious characters.

Shrike as seen on the official Philip Reeve site.

Shrike as seen on the official Philip Reeve site.

2) Shrike (from The Hungry City Chronicles by Philip Reeve)

Shrike is quite possibly one of my favourite characters of all time, ever. He’s a type of resurrected, half-corpse, half-machine soldier called a “Stalker”, and when he’s introduced in Mortal Engines, he’s working as a bounty hunter for the Mayor of London, and his targets are our two protagonists, Hestor and Tom. But it was really in the last couple of books that I grew to love Shrike, and the epilogue of A Darkling Plain utterly killed me. There’s a prequel series (Fever Crumb), too, which apparently features Shrike when he was still human, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet…

Jason as Robin.

Jason as Robin.

1) Jason Todd, a.k.a. Red Hood (from the DC Universe)

Ah, what to say about Jason? Except, of course, that he’s my favourite Batman character, and that I have basically stalked him through the DC Universe: Which comics I decide to read depends largely on whether Jason (&, to a lesser extent, a couple of other characters) will be appearing. He first showed up in Batman as the second Robin, but was generally despised by fans, and was consequently brutally murdered by the Joker. But, in death, he became significantly more popular, and it’s notable in the comics that whenever Batman feels particularly guilty about something (and he happens to be in the bat-cave), the glass case with Jason’s Robin suit will show up in the background.

Jason as the Red Hood.

Jason as the Red Hood.

In the usual manner of comic book characters, though, he is eventually brought back to life, but instead of everything going back to normal, he is enraged to discover that Batman never avenged him, and (worse) that he has been replaced by a new Robin. There are several series that he shows up in, but the most prominent Jason Todd stories are probably in Batman: A Death in the FamilyRed Hood: The Lost DaysBatman: Under the Hood and the new Red Hood & the Outlaws series.

Books that Changed Me

There are a lot of books that have influenced me over the years, and they’ve done so in various ways: Books that have changed my way of looking at the world; books that have been instrumental in creating lasting friendships; books that made me think about issues that I’d never considered before…

I thought that today I’d let you know about a few of the books that have influenced me the most over the years (for better or for worse), & tell you a little bit about how. I’ve picked out ten (though there are, of course, a lot more out there), and I’d love to hear about how you think you’ve been shaped by books, so be sure to leave a comment to let me know!

In the order in which I first read them:

The Magic Key1) Biff, Chip & Kipper series. I don’t know what this series is actually called, but oh well. There are probably hundreds of these books, & I’m pretty sure that my primary school had the lot. During my first few years at school, we would have time every week to sit down & read these books, to develop our reading ability, but I absolutely hated them! I guess that pretty much everyone hates the books that they were made to read at school, but I got started pretty early: I must have been about five when these books led me to the conclusion that reading was a chore. I don’t remember ever finding them difficult to read – just annoying. :/

[Edit (9/9/2014): Literally a few seconds after posting this, I checked my email and found a Nintendo Newsletter announcing a Biff, Chip & Kipper game series, so apparently that’s a thing. 😐 ]

J.R.R. Tolkien//The Hobbit2) The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. An exception to my no-books rule, since I never technically read this book myself. When my sister and I behaved ourselves, our Dad would sometimes come upstairs and read a chapter of The Hobbit to us before we went to bed. I was completely obsessed with it, and I even called my fish-shaped lunchbox Bilbo, after the main character (or possibly Gandalf. My sister & I had matching lunchboxes…). When Dad had finished the book, I wanted so badly for him to start again from the beginning, that he went out and bought me the tapes of the BBC audio drama, which was the first audiobook (kind of) that I ever listened to.

J.K. Rowling//Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone3) Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. I think that pretty much everyone in my generation has been influenced in some way by the Harry Potter series. In my case, this was the book that made me love reading. My sister was badgering me to read this series pretty much as soon as it came out, but I was stubborn, and ended up not picking it up until a little before Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire was released, when my best friend Jen started pressing me to read it, too. I went home, read the first couple of chapters, got frustrated that it wasn’t moving quickly enough, and then, at school the next day, I told Jen something along the lines of, “This is boring. I though you said it was about a magic school.” Her response was to tell me to start from chapter 5 (I think), so I ended up skipping over most of the stuff with the Dursleys the first time (though nowadays that’s actually one of my favourite parts of the book).

Anyway, needless to say, I loved it, and when I’d finished, my parents were so overjoyed that I was reading for fun that they went straight out and bought me the next two books in the series (something that my sister thought was incredibly unfair, since, having been an avid reader pretty much her whole life, she had to save up all her pocket money if she wanted new books to read), and I read them both in a day, and then went and re-read all three over and over until Goblet of Fire came out…

K.M. Peyton//Flambards4) Flambards by K.M. Peyton. I first read this book in year 7 at school (when I was 11), and it was the book that made me realise that school books didn’t always have to be boring. I ended up finishing it way ahead of time, and when I did, the first question I asked my English teacher was, “Does this have a sequel?” It did, and I raced through the other three books in the series, as well. I eventually also discovered an old TV adaptation, which was amazingly done and I recommend to anyone who likes World War I-era period dramas, or horses, or aeroplanes.

Tamora Pierce//First Test5) The Protector of the Small quartet by Tamora Pierce. It’s complete luck that I ever actually read this series, since the first book (First Test) was a Christmas present from my parents, who have notoriously bad luck picking out books for me. I probably only read it because I was stuck for the whole holiday at my Granny’s house, where the only other books available were things that I felt even less like reading. This series was what got me started on fanfiction – the first fanfic I ever read was a Kel/Merric story set a few years after the end of Lady Knight – which is still a surprisingly big part of my life.

Louise Cooper//Daughter of Storms6) Daughter of Storms by Louise Cooper. I probably first picked this up when I was about 12, just by chance in Waterstones one day – my attention was drawn to the book next to it on the shelf (The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper), and I only looked at this one because I thought the cover was pretty, and the title was kind of interesting. I actually really love this whole trilogy, but the main reason it’s on this list is because this was the first book I read that made me really want to write my own stories. I remember that after I finished the last book in the series (Keepers of Light), I started planning out my own series of fantasy novels (with a main character who suspiciously resembled the girl on the cover of Daughter of Storms), and I spent almost my entire summer holiday writing about her adventures.

Tamora Pierce//Alanna: The First Adventure7) The Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce. This series is what really sparked my love affair with high fantasy (which is my favourite genre), and also with Tamora Pierce (who is probably my all-time favourite author). It’s definitely not the best of her series’ (nor the first one I read), but it was the one that best managed to capture my attention, and – more surprisingly – to keep it.

Susan Cooper//The Grey King8) The Grey King by Susan Cooper. This is the fourth book in the Dark is Rising sequence, which I briefly mentioned when I was talking about Daughter of Storms. I initially picked up The Dark is Rising on a whim, and I really didn’t like it (or rather, I could barely follow it), but a couple of years later, I came across a bind-up of the whole series, and discovered that I had actually tried to start the series from the second book. Needless to say, this has made me a little more cautious about starting books that I don’t know anything about, and now I will usually look up books that sound interesting and make sure there’s not another book that I should read first…

But anyway, The Grey King is the fourth book in the series, and my favourite. It takes place in Snowdonia, in Wales, and a large part of the story is tied up in local Arthurian legends. This was the book that really got me interesting in mythology (particularly Arthurian myths and Celtic myths), and was a big part of the reason why I decided to go to Wales for University. It’s also a book that my cousins and I bonded over (we spent a couple of weeks one summer visiting all the places that Will and Brân went to in the book), so it’s also very special to me for that reason. 🙂

Meg Cabot//The Princess Diaries9) The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot. This series made me fall in love with love stories. It was so funny and Mia was such a realistic character that reading these books made me feel like she was actually speaking to me. And Michael, I swoon for thee. Michael was probably one of my very first book boyfriends, and Michael/Mia was definitely my first OTP (One True Pairing). I remember watching the two films with my cousins (who were very young at the time), and rejoicing at the end of the second film, when my cousin Zou turned around and said to me sadly, “Why couldn’t she have married Michael?” This series is basically on this list because it turned me into a massive shipper. ~♥

Philip Reeve//Mortal Engines10) The Hungry City Chronicles by Philip Reeve. Also known as the Predator Cities series; also known as the Mortal Engines series. Whatever you call it, this series is awesome, and it made this list because it was the first series I ever read that really made me think about the future, and not just in an ecological, the-world-is-going-to-die sense (though there is that, too). Shrike is my favourite character from this series, and also one of my favourite characters of all time, and the journey of self-discovery that he goes on in the series incorporates a lot of thought/discussion about the way that the civilisations of the future will look back on the events of today. I first picked up Mortal Engines, the first book in the series, when I was about 15 at the insistence of my friend Clare, and it’ll probably (hopefully) stick with me for the rest of my life.

What are your most influential books? Let me know in the comments!