Mortal Engines: Where To Begin?

I met so many interesting people at Lucca Comics and Games last week that they wouldn’t all fit in one blog post. One of those who I should have mentioned is the fantasy illustrator Paolo Barbieri. Many years ago Paolo did a cover for the Italian edition of Predator’s Gold (then trading as Freya della Lande di Ghiacco), and although Freya looks a bit too skinny to be Freya it’s one of my favourite covers and captures just the sense of pulp adventure I was after.


So it was great to meet Paolo at last, and between signing books for his huge queue of fans he took time to draw this sketch of London on the move in Mortal Engines!


There has been a lot of interest in Mortal Engines since Peter Jackson’s big announcement last week, and a couple of people, astutely noticing the existence of prequels, have asked in what order the books should be tackled. It’s up to you, of course, but I’ve always thought they’re best read in the order they were written. So start with Mortal Engines, then go on to Predator’s Gold, Infernal Devices and A Darkling Plain. That’s the original Mortal Engines quartet, and it covers the final years of the Traction Era, the far-future age of mobile cities which I dreamed up in the 1990s.


Then, if you have an appetite for more, you could go on to read the Fever Crumb trilogy, (Fever Crumb, A Web of Air and Scrivener’s Moon) which goes back to the very beginnings of the Mortal Engines world. It’s a different setting in many ways – there are, for instance, no airships and no mobile cities. I think the books have a slightly different tone, too – the heroes of the Mortal Engines quartet are always zooming across continents and oceans, but Fever Crumb’s adventures all take place in London or in the island city of Mayda, until Scrivener’s Moon, when Municipal Darwinism finally begins to take off and there is a certain amount of charging about on ramshackle motorised fortresses.


And if you still want more… tough, ‘cos that’s all there is*.

But in my latest novels, Railhead and Black Light Express, I’ve tried to take everything I learned about writing and world-building from the Mortal Engines books and tell a new story on the same scale, but set in a very different future world.


(All the books mentioned above should be available from UK booksellers, and there are US editions of everything except Black Light Express, which will be published there by Switch Press next year. In the UK, the Mortal Engines and Fever Crumb books rate published by Scholastic, Railhead and Black Light Express by Oxford University Press.)

(*There is actually a 10,000 word World Book Day novella from a few years back, Traction City, about the young Anna Fang, and also a sort of encyclopaedia called The Traction Codex (written with Jeremy Levett) but they are only patchily available – I’ll let you know if that changes!)


  1. Mitch
    Nov 21, 2016 @ 03:58:54

    Delighted to hear Mortal Engines is finally getting the movie adaptation it deserves. I always used to think the perfect adaptation would be animated and done by Miyazaki, but live action Peter Jackson sounds pretty good too!

    On the topic of covers – I finished Black Light Express the other week and was wondering why Zen is depicted as white on the cover. I suppose that’s all beyond your hands and probably not something the publisher or artist considers, but I thought it was nice that you went to the trouble of crafting a future universe that’s mostly Indian – which isn’t easy to do in prose, since you have to explicitly mention it, as opposed to comics or film – and a bit of a shame that wasn’t reflected on the cover.


    • Philip Reeve
      Dec 26, 2016 @ 21:00:50

      Hi Mitch! I don’t the future in Railhead is specifically Indian, it’s more a kind of post-racial melting pot with quite a few Indian names in the mix. The picture of Zen on the front was originally a mood piece done by Ian McQue way back before he’d seen the text. It was kind of monochrome and has been coloured for the cover, but I do agree that Zen should be darker skinned, and I’ve asked for the colours to be adjusted for the paperback edition.


  2. Marc
    Jan 07, 2017 @ 22:02:36

    Hello! I’ve been wanting to ask if there would be a fourth book for the Fever Crumb trilogy coming anytime in the future? I remember you mentioning in a older blog post that you have been planning a fourth book for the series and I wanted to ask for more info on it because I feel that would really end the series on a good note instead of leaving the reader on a sort of cliff hanger when they read the ending of the third book. Any updates on that so far?


    • Philip Reeve
      Jan 08, 2017 @ 09:31:17

      Hi Marc! At the moment I think it probably won’t happen. I was intending the FC books to be a quartet when I was writing them, but by the time I was doing Scrivener’s Moon I could sense a change in the weather coming, so certain elements which I’d been saving for the fourth book got pulled into SM instead – like London starting to move. There’s still enough material for a fourth book, and I guess when the ME movie comes out there may be a demand for it, but I’ve spent five or six years away from that world, and I’m not sure I want to go back to it now. I’d like to cut the last chapter of Scrivener’s Moon, though. It should have ended on MORE of a cliffhanger!


      • Marc
        Aug 30, 2017 @ 03:23:07

        Oh ok. Sorry for the super late reply, but I really appreciate your answer! The book still ended wonderful though honestly one of the best series I ever read. Can’t wait for the movie!


  3. Lyra
    Jan 18, 2017 @ 21:09:47

    Hello! Just finished your first book Mortal Engines. Last line was absolutely heartbreaking. The story was amazing ! I couldn’t get enough of it .Every chapter was a cliffhanger so obviously I wanted to read on but often I couldn’t because of my bedtime – although sometimes I found it hard to sleep! Thank you so much for writing this book! Now my father is going to buy the entire box set ,which I am looking forward to greatly.
    P.s – good luck with the film adaptation I hope that it turns out the way you envisaged.
    -Lyra Moule aged 11


    • Philip Reeve
      Jan 21, 2017 @ 15:30:24

      Thank you, Lyra! I’m glad you liked it – hope you enjoy the rest, too.


  4. Lyra
    Jan 23, 2017 @ 09:03:12

    Thank you very much I’m sure I will😊.


  5. The Sheehab
    Feb 06, 2017 @ 19:53:27

    Hi! We are a Rob fansite @TheSheehab and his fans are pretty well spread worldwide. Several have asked whether the book has been translated into different languages. Could you let us know please? Thanks x


    • Philip Reeve
      Feb 06, 2017 @ 20:59:22

      Hi there! Mortal Engines was first published in the UK in 2001, and there were translations in quite a few languages around that time. It’s probably gone out of print in most of those territories in the intervening 16 years, but hopefully news of the movie will mean that new editions will start to be published soon. I’m very pleased that Rob is on board – I think he’s going to be great!


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