by Philip Reeve
A Darkling Plain is book 4 and the conclusion of The Hungry City Chronicles. Normally, I would have preferred to read the books in order, but since this was a Cybils nominee, I didn’t have the time to read the first three books before reading this one. However, A Darkling Plain stands well on its own, and I didn’t have any problem understanding it without the benefit of having read the previous books in the series.
The series takes place in a futuristic world in which huge mobile cities compete for resources, eating smaller towns and cities, in something called Municipal Darwinism. There is a war between the supporters of the cities, called tractionists, and the Green Storm, who oppose the cities for the destruction they wreak upon the earth. A Darkling Plain takes place during an uneasy truce between the two factions. The new leader of the Green Storm, General Naga, has sent his wife to an African city called Zagwa to negotiate peace. The negotiations go well, except for an interruption caused by forces trying to assassinate Lady Naga. The assassination attempt is foiled by a young man named Theo, who is later recruited to return Lady Naga home safely. Unfortunately, Lada Naga’s staff has been inflitrated, and Lady Naga and Theo are captured.
Meanwhile, an aviator named Tom Natsworthy runs into a woman that he believes he knew decades before in the now destroyed traction city of London. Tom and his daughter Wren embark on a search to uncover the mystery behind the woman, a search that may lead them to London itself. In another city, Tom’s estranged wife Hester, accompanied by a stalker (a kind of cyborg built on a resurrected human) named Grike, rescues Theo and reluctantly finds herself drawn ever more into the situation with Lady Naga. As various forces work to destabilize the truce, war threatens and the future of humanity is at stake.
A Darkling Plain was a very enjoyable book. The technical details should appeal to those who prefer their science fiction hard, but the technology never bogs down the story, which is quite exciting and moves along quickly. Nor does technology overpower character; at its heart this is a human drama, and the characters (even the resurrected stalkers) are fascinating and well-developed. Obviously all the characters have a history in the previous books, but even without having read those books I came to care for the characters and became wrapped up in their stories. I recommend this book for any teen or adult science fiction fans.
While the book stands fine on its own, if you haven’t read this book, you’ll probably want to start with book 1, Mortal Engines. The other two books are Predator’s Gold and Infernal Devices. I look forward to going back and reading these earlier books.
A Darkling Plain is a Cybils nominee