What is to Become of Fever Crumb?
Once again I come to review a Philip Reeve book, and once again I’m astounded to find that no one else seems to have anything to say about it. It’s also gotten to the stage where it is getting harder and harder to write coherently about Reeve’s books when all I want to do is squee indiscriminately. Every time I open a book in THE HUNGRY CITY CHRONICLES, I know without a doubt that I’m in for a fantastic read, and I’m running out of words to describe how wonderful I think they all are.
Scrivener’s Moon is the third book in the prequel trilogy to the original HUNGRY CITY quartet, following Fever Crumb and Web of Air. Set in a post-apocalyptic world after a mysterious event known as the Downsizing, humankind now lives in a quasi-steampunk world which has lost all understanding of advanced technology and refers to those that once commanded it as the Ancients. Since then, there has been a different kind of progress at work in the world: the use of the terrifying half-machine half-cadaver soldiers known as Stalkers, the existence of strange Scriven mutants with their long lifespans and dappled skin, and the ongoing development of London into the world’s first Traction City.
Our protagonist Fever Crumb was raised among the engineers of London, taught to stifle her emotions and to embrace everything rational. Throughout the course of the three books her ability to feel love and pain in equal measure has been a key part of her character development. Now she returns to London with her engineering father Doctor Crumb and Scriven mother Wavey to oversee the final stages of its evolution under the direction of Mayor Quercus. Her ambitious mother is excited at the prospect, but Fever is still nursing a broken heart after the events of Web of Air and struggling against the visions that her Scriven grandfather implanted into her head as an infant. His micro-technology is currently causing visions of a strange black pyramid to the north, and her mother is excited at the prospect of getting her hands on more technology.
Meanwhile, another young woman is having similar visions, only hers are of the terrifying spectacle of a mobile London ravaging the countryside. Cluny Morvish is heralded as a seer by her people, and on hearing about her visions the tribes and nomad empires of the north begin to gather under the leadership of Rufus Raven to march on London and destroy the Traction City before it devours them.
Slowly the city of London rises, slowly the army from the north advances, and between them travels a circus known as the Carnival of Knives. As old friends of Wavey, the eclectic assortment of performers welcome mother and daughter aboard, providing transport as they follow rumors that an earthquake has opened up an entrance in the pyramid, providing access to the secrets hidden inside. Moving between books from the warmth and holiday spirit of Mayda to the barren and frozen wastelands of the north, Fever’s journey is marked by run-ins with circus freaks, mammoths and nightwights, whilst back in London her father carries on his work, oblivious to the presence of a troublemaker in his midst.
One of the book’s best and most intriguing characters, Charley Shallow, last appeared in Fever Crumb and here is still nursing a grudge against Doctor Crumb’s daughter. As slippery as an eel, Charley has lofty ambitions to become a person of importance, and isn’t squeamish (or not that squeamish) about lying, cheating, back-stabbing and eventually murdering in order to get what he wants. As horrid as he is, one can’t help but feel absurdly sympathetic toward him, for Reeve expertly plots his descent from an embittered kid to a moral vacuum.
As always, even a detailed synopsis of a book in this series doesn’t do the story itself justice. Philip Reeve has mastered the formula of uniting sympathetic characters to a riveting story and setting it all within a fascinating world that is both strange and familiar, filled with intrigue and danger and relics of the past. Any story set in the far-distant future holds a certain sense of melancholy for a reader, not least because it is a world none of us will live to see, but this feeling is especially intensified when Reeve sheds some light on what exactly happened in Fever’s history (our future) to create such a dystopian world. This is a brave but dangerous vision of the future in which life is short and death is brutal; where superstition, religion and old technology are virtually interchangeable; and in which political intrigue, warfare and engineering discoveries are instruments wielded by the strong and ambitious. Reeve’s imagination seems to know no bounds, and he has the mastery of pacing, descriptive prose and emotional punch with which to convey it all to the reader. I’m running out of adjectives with which to praise Scrivener’s Moon, but I can say that it is only once in a while that a writer comes along who can exceed on all fronts: action, romance, mystery, suspense — you name it, Reeve can write it.
Speaking of romance, it’s heartening that in a world that’s as grim and violent as that of THE HUNGRY CITY CHRONICLES, love remains a strong motivating force for so many characters. It’s often painful, and sometimes it doesn’t lead to a good end, but amongst all the nihilism and cruelty, it’s still a fundamental part of human nature. Fever in particular faces questions about her capacity for love and sexuality that change the course of her entire life, and will hopefully be revisited in subsequent books.
And I dearly hope that there are more books. Although this prequel was advertised as a trilogy, there is so much more story left to be told, not just with Fever, but with Doctor Crumb and Shrike, and with past characters such as Arlo Thursday and the Solvent siblings. Furthermore, there is still a huge passage of time between the end of Scrivener’s Moon and the start of Mortal Engines — I’d be first in line to see how Reeve decides to fill it.