Skip to main content

A Darkling Plain (Mortal Engines, Book 4)

Review

A Darkling Plain (Mortal Engines, Book 4)

It has been more than 20 years since Tom left his native city of London. His last glimpse of his former home was the smoking remains of the city flattened by an old tech weapon called MEDUSA. Since then, London has been regarded as cursed --- the haunt of ghosts and wild electrical storms --- a place unfit for the living or the dead. However, there are rumors that something might still be living amongst the rubble. Tom decides he wants to see his old home again. With the help of Wolf Kobold, a privateer for the Traktionstadtsgesellschraft, Tom and his daughter Wren return to the ruins of London hoping to uncover a mysterious treasure hidden in the city's remains.

This is Philip Reeve's fourth and final installment in The Hungry City Chronicles. Returning to the brutal city-eat-city world where roving cities devour each other and fierce warriors called Stalkers are created by fusing machines with the bodies of the dead, A DARKLING PLAIN brings the conflicts developed in the first three books to a thrilling and heartbreaking finale.

The book opens with an uneasy peace between the traction cities and the stationary settlements. Key to the negotiations is Dr. Oenone Zero, who has achieved notoriety after the assassination of the Green Storm's powerful and charismatic leader, Stalker Fang. The Tractionists wish to return to the city-eat-city system of Municipal Darwinism, which they've held in check while battling the Green Storm. The Anti-Tractionists realize their war has caused environmental degradation to a world they wish to see green. Neither side realizes there is a third party involved in the conflict, one that wishes to destroy all human life on the planet.

One of the most notable things about The Hungry City Chronicles is the author's refusal to take sides in the conflict raging in his world. Clearly there are problems with the traction cities that rely on a strict hierarchical structure and slavery to support a lifestyle that also destroys the earth. But the Anti-Tractionists are equally as abhorrent in their reliance on armies built from the bodies of the dead, and their fascist terrorist organization that uses suicide bombers to achieve destruction and sabotage. Instead of choosing a side, Reeve writes about the destruction that ideology wreaks when ideas are valued above human life.

Like all sequels, A DARKLING PLAIN features the return of old friends and of enemies believed to be dead. While Tom and Wren explore London, Hester Shaw has turned mercenary with her loyal stalker Grike, who is no longer able to kill. Theo Ngoni, Oenone Zero and the obnoxious Prof. Pennyroyal all play parts in uncovering the threat to the planet. Even Fishcake, one of the abandoned Lost Boys, is involved in the series finale, as the characters fight to save their own lives and of those they love.

Ultimately, the ending to A DARKLING PLAIN is both satisfying and elegiac. Rather than settling for a convenient and temporary happy ending, Reeve takes the long view of the life cycle. Acknowledging that all living creatures die through violence, sickness or old age, he offers a vision of a world where machines designed for killing are transformed into machines that can remember the past. This fascinating juxtaposition of destruction arrested by recollection suggests that, without memory, we return to the atrocities of the past. It also suggests that most things are forgotten in the passing of time. If we're lucky, we will be remembered and leave a world intact enough for others to survive.

In a market saturated with derivative fantasy, The Hungry City Chronicles is refreshingly original. The dark themes of the series are ameliorated by loving and loyal human relationships, as well as Reeve's powerful, hopeful vision of the planet's survival. Recommended for mature readers due to apocalyptic themes and violence, the books have crossover potential for adult readers who enjoyed Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials.

Reviewed by Sarah A. Wood on June 1, 2007

A Darkling Plain (Mortal Engines, Book 4)
by Philip Reeve

  • Publication Date: May 30, 2017
  • Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction
  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press
  • ISBN-10: 1338201158
  • ISBN-13: 9781338201154