Book Review: ‘Infernal Devices’ by Philip Reeve

Author: Philip Reeve

Original Published in 2005

Review by Miriam Atkinson

Infernal Devices is the third book in Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines Quartet. In almost a soft reboot of the series, Infernal Devices takes place approximately sixteen years after the previous novel – Predator’s Gold. The novel focuses on Wren Natsworthy – Tom and Hester’s teenage daughter – as its primary protagonist. While Tom and Hester still play an essential part in the book, Infernal Devices feels very much like Wren’s story as it is her actions which drive the plot.

When the Lost Boys come to Anchorage-in-Vineland in search of the Tin Book, Wren agrees to help them if they will take her away from her mundane life. Wren’s excitement is short-lived when the submersible is captured by the floating city of Brighton, which is ruled by Nimrod Pennyroyal. Tom and Hester rush to save Wren but arrive at the same time as the Green Storm. Lead by the Stalker Fang, they also seek the Tin Book and the codes it contains. As the Natsworthy family desperately tries to reunite they must avoid becoming collateral damage as a power struggle erupts within the Green Storm.

The in-universe time jump between Predator’s Gold and Infernal Devices is one of the largest seen in the series. Personally I think this is a clever decision on Reeve’s part as it allows him the space to reinvent parts of the world. The main example of this is the Green Storm. In Predator’s Gold we saw the origin of the organisation however by the time of Infernal Devices they are all powerful and winning the war against the traction cities. As Tom and Hester venture back out into the world both they and the reader are shocked by how much more violent and unstable everything has become.

As I mentioned, Wren is the protagonist of Infernal Devices and straight away we see the differences between Wren and her parents. Unlike them Wren has enjoyed a sheltered and peaceful upbringing in Anchorage-in-Vineland. As her life has been void of the stresses and trials Tom and Hester endured, Wren is a very naïve and overly trusting character in first half of the book. She starts the story as an ordinary girl yearning for adventure. When adventure does find Wren she is forced to quickly react to new situations in order to survive. It is in the later chapters aboard Brighton that we see glimmers of Hester’s cunning and Tom’s kind heart in Wren’s character.

Wren is a tricky character for me. I don’t dislike her but she is part of that mid-range of characters who I don’t have strong feelings about either way. Like Freya in Predator’s Gold, Wren makes several impulsive decisions based on a combination of naivety and teenage stubbornness. The difference is that the then sixteen year old Freya is trying to hold a city together with its population expecting her to provide the solutions to all their problems. She is trapped by circumstance and is thus a sympathetic character. In contrast Wren inadvertently causes the entire events of Infernal Devices (and arguably much of A Darkling Plain) simply because she is bored and wants excitement. While Wren does grow over the course of the story, for me she never quite matches up to other strong female characters in the Quartet; such as Hester, Anna Fang, or Katherine Valentine.

In addition to exciting readers with returning characters, Infernal Devices gives us several new ones too. Theo Ngoni is a slave aboard Brighton, along with Wren. In a clear parallel with Tom and Hester’s story, Wren and Theo start out disliking each other only to later discover an attraction. Oenone Zero is an important member of the Green Storm but she is in constant danger as her head and heart battle over the right course of action. Finally the young Lost Boy Fishcake quickly proves to be a wildcard character due to constantly shifting loyalties to whomever can best help him survive.

Infernal Devices makes sure that the post-apocalypse world Reeve has created continues to grow in new and exciting ways. Yet at the core of this exciting world of characters, inventions and locations, is the important theme of family. The Natsworthys are at the heart of this story; they are the characters we root for. In a way the whole extended world is merely a backdrop to the complicated relationships between this one family. It helps to ground the novel in a reality the readers can connect with.

The characters of Tom, Hester and Wren are the driving force of this series. With just one book left in the Quartet, they are the reason readers like me keep returning to these stories.

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