Mortal Engines

Steampunk interests me.  I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I’ve enjoyed several steampunk films I’ve seen.  Mortal Engines was the first steampunk novel I’ve read. When I first picked it up I had no idea that it was a steampunk motif.  Halfway through it suddenly dawned on me that this is what a lot of people talk about when they say a steampunk novel.  Mortal

Mortal Engines is set in the post-apocalyptic future where cities are movable and travel around devouring one another in order to gain citizens and the parts of the cities they “eat”. They call it city Darwinism. Their only competition is the Anti-traction league who stay put and live lives like we currently do. The problem is that they are in danger from cities like London who have developed weapons that can obliterate any competition.

I liked the Steampunk aspects. The airships (dirigibles) and the iron bodied cities and the goggles and hoods many people wear. The idea of cities moving around devouring each other for resources is quite clever. The short-comings in the book revolve around the characters.

Tom is the first protagonist we meet and he’s ok. He’s just very immature emotionally and doesn’t seem to act the way a teenage boy would for his age. The same goes for Katherine. She’s a strong character except for her childish emotional maturity. The only one who seems to be emotionally matched to her age is Hester.

This is an entertaining read, the the problems with the characters aren’t too distracting just more of a nuisance. The actions of Tom, Kate, and Hester are all admirable although sometimes waaaay too dramatic. It’s a fun read and if I was a teenager I’d probably really like this book.

The Monstrumologist

I didn’t expect to like this book.  And maybe because I set the bar so low, I allowed myself room to enjoy it.  The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey is about a doctor whose science is monsters.  His assistant is a twelve-year-old boy whose parents used to work for the doctor but died in an unfortunate accident.  The doctor took the boy in and is now training him to be a monstrumologist.

MonsterThe story is told in an interesting fashion.  It’s one of those story-within-a-story types using journals.  The frame story is of a man who is contacted by a mortician after finding the body of a man who claims to be over 100 years old.  The man’s body was found with several volumes of journals.  The mortician asks the man to read the journals and see if he can find any clues as to who the man is.  Thus, as the man reads the journals, we are given the account of the doctor and his assistant.

What I struggled with the most on picking up the book at the library is that I’m really into monsters and all that.  I’ve read some books with vampires (the Sookie Stackhouse series and Twilight, unfortunately) but usually supernatural beings aren’t my jam.  However, since this was nominated for a Printz award and I have several students who like reading books with monsters I thought I stretch my reading palate and give it a try.  I’m glad I did.

The author doesn’t take the monster part very seriously at all.  He makes them so over-the-top strange and unrealistic that it immediately suspended my cynicism for monsters.  Instead, Yancey focuses more on character development and plot.  While the book is almost five hundred pages, it reads very quickly.  In fact, it’s hard to really gauge how much time it took me to read because I’d start reading and then suddenly find myself one hundred pages into the book.  Because it was so well written, it really felt like watching a thriller film.  Which I’m a huge fan of.  The suspense and the action scenes are very well written that you really lose yourself to the plot and the action.  It’s very graphic in places but not so much that it’s gory.

I think that what would make me come back to this book is the characters.  While at first it seems that this is going to be another picaresque novel about a young apprentice and a crazy Frankenstein-like doctor, Yancey plays with that to break stereotypes and instead shows us that no matter our interests and stereotypes we are more a like than we think.  The doctor, who isn’t creepily old to be having a twelve-year-old assistant, and the boy actually bond over the fact that their fathers are dead and left them with a lot of stuff to work out.  And it’s in this bonding that they realize they have more in common than they thought.  So I do recommend this book.  And if you do find some monsters under your bed or in your closet, you’ll know who to call.