Book Review: ‘Fever Crumb’ by Philip Reeve

Author: Philip Reeve

Originally Published in 2009

Review by Miriam Atkinson

Fever Crumb is the first book in Philip Reeve’s prequel series to his original bestselling Mortal Engines Quartet. Set centuries before the post-apocalyptic world we’ve come to know, the three-part prequel series explores the origin of the Traction Era and the birth of the very first Traction City – London.

The prequels begin with Fever Crumb. Fever is a teenage girl and the only female member of London’s Order of Engineers. Raised by the engineers and her adoptive father Dr Gideon Crumb, Fever is a highly intelligent young women with expertise in science, mathematics and logic. Fever’s life is changed forever when archaeologist Kit Solent requests her help to analyse some Scriven technology he has found (the Scriven were a group of human-like mutants who ruled London before Fever was born). At the same time, a military organisation known as The Movement is descending on London. They too are seeking Scriven technology – technology that would help them built the world’s first traction city.

As a long time fan of the Mortal Engines Quartet, this prequel – the origin story of the traction cities – was truly as fascinating to read as it was enjoyable. I loved finding the many hints to the original books that Reeve incorporated into Fever Crumb. One example is the Order of Engineers which later becomes the Guild of Engineers by the time of Mortal Engines. The Movement’s leader, Land Admiral Nicola Quercus, we realise must become Nicholas Quirke – future lord mayor and near-deity of London.

So, what is the series’ new protagonist Fever Crumb like? Straight away I liked Fever as a character. Despite her lack of understanding in social situations, Fever shows her strength and resilience in other areas. Whereas Mortal Engines protagonists Tom and Hester could rely on each other, Fever is very much alone in the novel even when she is surrounded by people. With the story pulling her in so many different directions, Fever must decide for herself who to trust and which path she wants to take. Although there are times when Fever finds herself out of her depth, such as when she is being hunted by the Skinner Gang, she is forced to adapt and learn to be more independent and resourceful to survive.

Fever’s journey in the story is one of self-discovery and belonging. Although Fever has lived in London her entire life does she truly consider herself a Londoner or is her loyalty only to the engineers who raised her? Does she help The Movement with their technological vision for London or stop them? Later, when Fever starts seeing visions of the Scriven, does she have any obligation to restore their dreams for the world? The first time I read the novel I was never quite sure which direction Fever would take, which made the story exciting in its unpredictability. Multiple read-throughs later I still find it interesting to think about how the story might have ended had Fever, and other characters such as Dr Crumb and Kit Solent, made different choices.

The climax of the novel sees the factions of The Movement, ordinary Londoners, the Order of Engineers, and the Skinner Gang all inadvertently collide at the same time. I appreciated how (with the exception of the Skinners) the various factions are shown to be capable of both good and bad. No one side is morally better than the others with everyone simply looking for a way to survive in this ever-changing world.

With traction cities playing such a huge part in the original Quartet, I think it was a brilliant move on Reeve’s part to go back in his prequel series and explore where that story began. Fever Crumb is a solid reintroduction to the world of Mortal Engines whilst also being an excellent story in its own right with strong and fascinating characters.

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