Welcome to the future. Welcome to a universe where you can travel on trains through portals which instantly transport you from one planet to the next in the blink of an eye. A universe where trains have their own personalities and voices. A universe created by the Guardians, where humans live alongside cyborgs (Motoriks), are linked to the universe via headsets connected to the DataSea, and are monitored by the Railforce’s Bluebodies. Welcome to the wonderfully rich imagination of Philip Reeve.
Anybody who has read Reeve’s Mortal Engines series will know exactly what to expect from this novel, the first in his latest series, Railhead. He is an author with an incredible imagination who is perfectly capable of building astonishing science-fiction universes in such vivid detail that they come alive in your mind as you read his works. He is an author who creates worlds that are beyond imagination and stories that grip the reader, keeping them turning until the last page. Several of Reeve’s novels have been nominated for the Carnegie Award, including this one. Railhead is fully deserving of its Carnegie nomination as it is a masterpiece of teenage science-fiction, which is as sensational and fast paced as the trains that transport his characters across galaxies.
Railhead tells the story of the flawed teenage hero Zen Starling, a thief, who is hired by the mysterious Raven to steal an object from the Emperor’s train with the help of his Motorik, Nova.
The relationship between Zen and Nova is a triumph. Nova has a human personality and emotions, coupled with the intelligence of a mototorik, winning Zen’s heart as well as the reader. Philip Reeve is onto a winning formula with his characterisation of his protagonist, Zen Starling. As a thief, he may not be the perfect choice for a hero, but the internal conflict between his livelihood and his conscience is fascinating to read. Zen’s good intentions shine through though and he develops into a strong role model for Railhead‘s teenage readers.
My favourite characters though were the trains themselves. Philip Reeve ingeniously endows each train with its own personality. They speak, they have emotions and are beautifully crafted. Some are lonely trains who yearn to be out on the tracks, some are menacing, some are grand and eloquent. To create such wonderful characters out of inanimate objects allows the reader to empathise with them and is a huge achievement. It is genuinely writing at its best.
In addition to amazing characters, Philip Reeve builds stunning worlds in a futuristic universe. This world is full of splendour but also grime. For me, this is the core which makes these fantastic worlds entirely believable. His setting of Cleave as an old mining town is a perfect example of this. The incredible detail with which he embellishes his story also adds to its realism. This rich detail is evident throughout the novel with the magnificent invention of the headsets which each character wears, right through to the disgusting creation of Hike Monks, which will leave you retching.
The pace of this book is perfect. It has nice, short chapters which keeps the action flowing at a thrilling speed. Railhead will grip you from start to finish and leave you feeling like you have been on a train ride through time and space.
Railhead is a superb read and I recommend anybody who liked Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines series to pick this up. I actually prefer Railhead to Mortal Engines and I moved straight on to start reading the its sequel, Black Light Express. It is hard to describe how stunning Philip Reeve’s creation of the Railhead universe is. I really hope this series continues!
I watched Philip Reeve talk about this series at the Hay Festival. He said that he wanted to capture the feeling he had as a teenager, walking down the street listening to Kraftwerk on his Walkman. He definitely captures the Kraftwerk spirit, and their music makes the perfect accompaniment to this brilliant book!
RATING = ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐