Hester Shaw is one of the main characters of the Mortal Engines Quartet. She appears in all four books.
When she was around seven years old, Thaddeus Valentine attacked her parents, specifically her mother Pandora, in order to obtain MEDUSA. Both her mother and David Shaw, the man Hester thought to be her father, were killed.
Hester disturbed Valentine while he was killing her mother. Flustered, Valentine swung around and struck Hester's face with his sword, causing her to fall back down the stairs and leaving her with scars that would last her entire lifetime.
Confused, she ran away, followed by Valentine's men. Valentine took MEDUSA and left, thinking she was dead. Hester got on her parents' boat and left, hoping to find a doctor. She woke up on the shores of the Great Hunting Ground, where she was found by Shrike, a Stalker. She spent the rest of her childhood living with Shrike aboard Strole, a scavenger town. Hester also accompanied Shrike on his bounty hunting trips.
A Bleak Midwinter
One target was Lardy Ampersand, a bank robber. After carrying out the killing, Shrike and Hester went back to the town of Twyne to collect their bounty, only to find the city celebrating the festival of Midwinter.
Mayor Pilbeam, accompanied with two slavers from the Shkin Corporation, had Shrike trapped in a net. Hester cut down a festive pine tree, crushing the assailants, and she and Shrike arrived at the Town Hall. They found a warm fireplace and food, and reminisced on the day (from In the Bleak Midwinter).
After several years, Hester left to carry out revenge against Valentine, finally making it aboard London, where Valentine led the Guild of Historians. There, Hester posed as a refugee from Salthook and tried to stab Valentine, but Tom Natsworthy blocked the blow and chased her through the Gut. In order to escape London's police, she jumped down a waste-chute leading out of the city. Valentine then pushed Tom after her.
After a few days wandering through the Out-Country, a desolate area entirely inhabited by Traction Cities, Hester and Tom came across Speedwell, a tiny scavenger town. The townspeople offered them food and shelter, only to try and sell them as slaves at a trading cluster. They escaped onto a neighbouring town, Stayns, and met the aviatrix Anna Fang, who took them to Airhaven. When Shrike attacked Airhaven, Hester and Tom fled in a balloon. They spent the next few weeks fleeing from the Stalker Shrike, who had been ordered by Magnus Crome to kill them. She found her way aboard Tunbridge Wheels, a suburb run by the pirate mayor Chrysler Peavey, and then to the Black Island. On the Black Island, Tom managed to kill Shrike just as he was about to kill Hester in order to turn her into a Stalker like himself. Hester lashed out at Tom for this, as she believed that it would be better to become a Stalker and lose her memories and feelings. They were rescued from the Black Island by Anna Fang and other members of the Anti-Traction League.
Miss Fang took them the Shan Guo, the leading nation of the Anti-Traction League. While there, Tom and Hester discovered that Valentine and Magnus Crome, the Lord Mayor of London, were planning to use MEDUSA to invade the lands of the Anti-Traction League. This distressed Tom, but didn't seem to bother Hester. In an unexpected fight with Valentine in Batmunkh Gompa, a city on the edge of Shan Guo, Valentine killed Miss Fang and burned down the Anti-Traction League's Northern Air fleet, leaving them helpless to stop London. He then escaped in his airship back to London, but Hester and Tom decided to pursue him using Miss Fang's Jenny Haniver.
Hester managed to get the airship close to the city by claiming it was London Ship GE47, then parachuted down to London's Top Tier, with the intention of sabotaging MEDUSA. She was soon captured by Magnus Crome's men and taken inside St. Pauls Cathedral, where MEDUSA was installed. Valentine, terrified of this reminder from his past, tried to stab Hester, but his own daughter Katherine threw herself between the sword and Hester. When Katherine fell onto the computer that controlled MEDUSA, she entered a code that caused MEDUSA to self destruct, destroying the whole of London along with it. Hester managed to escape by reaching the Jenny Haniver, which Tom was still piloting. Hester tried to comfort Tom, who was guild-ridden and in shock from killing Valentine's henchmen. As they both realised that they had nothing left but their airship, they began their new life together as air traders.
Hester is first seen in this book with Tom in Airhaven, having returned from a trip around the world, to places such as Nuevo Maya and Antarctica. At the time, Airhaven was sailing over the southern regions of the Ice Wastes. After meeting representatives from Arkangel, Hester, Tom, and their new passenger Pennyroyal were chased from Airhaven by Green Storm airships. In order to outrun them, they flew far too far north, beyond the slightly warmer regions where the Ice Cities roamed. Giving up hope of finding any other airships or cities, Tom and Hester lay down in each other's arms, expecting to die.
However, upon making one last trip outside the cabin, Hester discovered that one city had come this far north. They flew down and docked at the city, Anchorage. Aboard the city, the three new arrivals discovered that Anchorage was heading towards the Dead Continent, formerly known as America; however, Freya Rasmussen, the city's Margravine, believed that parts of America were still alive. Days later, Hester discovered that Freya had started to fall in love with Tom. As Tom began to develop a friendship with Freya, Hester, believing that Tom would want to be with Freya if she did not do something, took the Jenny Haniver and fled with a plan to get Tom back. She planned to sell Anchorage's location to Arkangel, but not for money. As a price, she demanded that Piotr Masgard allow her to rescue Tom when his men raided Anchorage. After agreeing to the terms of the deal and signing a contract, Hester was knocked out and captured by Widgery Blinkoe, an agent in the pay of the Green Storm, and taken to the Green Storm's northern base at Rogue's Roost.
She was woken by the base's commander Sathya and later taken to a room known as the Memory Chamber. Inside the Chamber, she found the newly Resurrected Anna Fang, who was loved by Sathya. Hester was shocked that Miss Fangs' body had been Resurrected, but Sathya was convinced that she had actually risen Fang from the dead. Hester gave up trying to convince her otherwise, and found out that Sathya wanted to use Hester and her ship to remind Fang of her previous life. This did not work, but Hester remained a prisoner of the Green Storm for about a month while Sathya continuously tried to re-awaken the new Stalker's memories.
Hester was eventually rescued by Tom, who had reached Rogue's Roost with the help of the Lost Boys. The Lost Boys accidentally set off bombs inside the base, unwittingly allowing Hester and Tom to escape. Sathya attempted to kill them on the way out, but was stopped by the Stalker Anna Fang. Tom and Hester recovered the Jenny Haniver and flew to Anchorage to try to stop Arkangel from eating it. Aboard the airship, Tom revealed to Hester that Pennyroyal had lied about America's green places, and that Anchorage was heading towards a dead continent after all. After a long moment of silence, Hester proceeded to kiss Tom, deciding not to tell him that she had betrayed Anchorage.
When they reached Anchorage, Hester sent Tom to Freya Rasmussen's private museum, where she thought he would be safe. Hester then fought against the Masgard's Huntsmen of Arkangel with the help of Freya and Pennyroyal. She released the imprisoned townspeople, who overpowered their captors, and personally killed Piotr Masgard, stabbing him multiple times. During the fight, Pennyroyal slipped away, shot Tom, and stole the Jenny Haniver, leaving Hester and Tom stranded on Anchorage. Arkangel later ran into thin ice and became stuck, allowing Anchorage to escape. The townspeople were then unsure of what to do next, as Pennyroyal's lies had been exposed and the city was unable to turn back. However, Caul, an exiled Lost Boy, boarded the city and showed the town's Steering Committee how to find small green spaces around the western shore of the continent. Anchorage settled on the green coast of the Dead Continent. During this journey, Tom recovered from his bullet wound, and Hester discovered that she was pregnant. The two lovers agreed to stay on Anchorage for as long as necessary, as they both knew that the Stalker Fang planned to declare war on the Traction Cities.
Fifteen years later, Hester still lived in Anchorage with Tom, whom she had now married, and their daughter Wren. Although tolerated by her fellow citizens, she was still regarded as an outsider for her brutality in killing Masgard. She had also developed a strained relationship with Wren.
Caul informed Hester of Wren's plan to leave Anchorage with the Tin Book in the Autolycus, a Lost Boy limpet. Hester arrived at the beach and killed Gargle and Remora, crew members of the Autolycus, but could not prevent Fishcake from kidnapping Wren.
Hester, Tom, Freya and Caul travelled to Grimsby to try and find Wren. Instead, they encountered several young children, as well as Uncle, who informed them of Brighton's ploy to capture the Lost Boys. Hester and Tom then continued on to Brighton in another limpet, while Freya and Caul returned to Anchorage with the children.
After docking at Brighton, Tom and Hester split up. After learning that Wren had been captured and enslaved by the Shkin Corporation, Hester visited The Nimrod Pennyroyal Experience, an exhibition on Pennyroyal's fictional exploits. After coming across a fictionalised image of herself, she learned that she had been featured in Pennyroyal's bestseller Predator's Gold. At the top storey of the gallery, she found a flight-ready Jenny Haniver, renamed as The Arctic Roll.
When she returned to the designated meeting place, however, she learned that Tom had gone directly to the Shkin Corporation to ask for Wren's release. Deducing that he had been captured himself, she waited until nightfall before fighting her way to the slave pens. There, she found several cages of Lost Boys, who she released to create a distraction. She then broke Tom and Fishcake out of the building, slaughtering the rest of the Shkin guards.
Arriving again at the Nimrod Pennyroyal Experience, Hester released the rockets from the Jenny, creating a wall opening to fly out to Cloud 9. Despite Tom's begging, she left Fishcake behind in the gallery, but reluctantly promised to return to him after collecting Wren.
After finding and reuniting with Wren, Hester found Pennyroyal and knocked him to the ground. Wren intervened, telling Hester and then Tom that she knew that Hester had sold Anchorage to the Huntsmen. Unable to deny the truth, Hester told her husband and daughter to leave, then fled into a hedge maze. She came across a waiting Shrike, who held her as Cloud 9 collapsed, then carried her away into the desert.
A Darkling Plain
Hester had been gone for six months, presumed dead. During that time, she killed the sheikh of El Houl and bought a sand-ship before fleeing into the desert with Shrike. She found and rescued Theo Ngoni, who was captured by Napster Varley.
Hester, Theo and Shrike arrived at Airhaven and tried to buy Oenone Zero from Varley, who asked for an extortionate price which they were unable to pay. Hester and Theo found Nimrod Pennyroyal hiding in Airhaven in disgrace and debt after a newspaper exposed him as a fraud. Hester took what remained of his money and headed to Varley's ship to buy Zero. As Pennyroyal's funds were still insufficient, she filled bags with nuts and washers to bluff Varley.
Hester's attempt to cheat the merchant was discovered and he attacked her. Hester was injured by a falling bookcase, allowing Varley to gain the upper hand; however, his abused wife killed him before he could stab Hester. As Hester and Zero made their escape, Kriegsmarshal Von Kobold found them and aided them against some Mancunian men, who intended on capturing Zero. Shrike scared them away and escorted Hester and Zero to their airship, the Shadow Aspect. They were joined by Pennyroyal, who had accidentally fallen onto the airship after a brawl.
Hester, Shrike, Zero and Pennyroyal made their way to Batmunkh Gompa to reunite with Naga, where Zero discovered Popjoy was dead. Pennyroyal informed Hester and Shrike of Zero's predicament, and Hester was shakily reunited with Tom. With Shrike, the pair escaped on the Jenny Haniver. They deduced that the Stalker Fang went to Erdene Tezh and flew the Jenny Haniver there.
On board the Jenny Haniver, Tom forgave Hester for selling Anchorage to Arkangel. She and the others tied the hiding Pennyroyal up. Stalker-birds attacked the airship, severely damaging it and causing it to crash near Fang's old home, where Hester and Tom left Pennyroyal. Hester was confronted by Fishcake, who attempted to kill Hester, but was stopped by the Stalker Fang, who decided not to kill them as they would all die soon enough. The Stalker took Tom into the house as Hester followed.
The Stalker Fang explained to Tom and Hester that she destroyed various traction cities and Green Storm bases to make the two sides fight each other, giving her time to send a command to ODIN to target the various destructive volcanoes around the Earth, which would erupt and destroy mankind, but would "make the world green again". As Hester carefully took Tom outside following the confrontation, they saw a twinkling star in the sky: ODIN destroying itself. Hester realised that the Stalker Fang had ordered the weapon to destroy itself. Pennyroyal tried to fly the sky-yacht to Tom and Hester, but was threatened by Fishcake to leave them behind as revenge for leaving him on Brighton. Hester watched the sky-yacht fly away, and she comforted Tom as he died. Hester committed suicide shortly afterwards, by driving a knife through her heart.
Shrike later found Tom and Hester's bodies. He considered taking Hester to be resurrected by Oenone, but sadly realised that this was the "right end" for her. So he picked up Hester and Tom's bodies, still holding each others' hands, and laid their bodies down to rest. Shrike then watched Tom and Hester's bodies decay over the years, with an oak tree growing out of the latter. Centuries later, Shrike would still recall the days of traction cities and Hester Shaw.
Hester has long, copper coloured hair and grey eyes. Valentine describes her as having been a "pretty child". However, she has been extremely disfigured by Valentine's sword attack: a deep scar cuts across her face, twisting her mouth and destroying her nose. She has also lost an eye.
To the onlooker, Hester presents an intimidating persona: angry, hateful, and violent, with a fierce temper. Those who take the trouble to get to know her, such as her friend, lover, and later husband Tom Natsworthy and their mutual friend Anna Fang, realise that this is a facade to disguise the more gentle and shy girl she would have been had life not treated her so badly. However, Hester undeniably feels little or no remorse from killing or injuring others, usually in self-defence or to protect those she loves.
As Hester ages, she becomes harder and does not seem to care for people outside her family. In Predator's Gold, she is willing to betray an entire city to win one person's interest. In A Darkling Plain, she works as an assassin, and what makes her good at the profession is not her skill with weapons, but her ability to kill without remorse.
Hester is married to Tom and has a daughter Wren Natsworthy.
Until Predator's Gold, she believes her parents to be Pandora and David Shaw. Her father, however, is Thaddeus Valentine himself, who had worked with her mother before she married. This makes Katherine Valentine her half-sister.
An old friend of Hester's is the Stalker Shrike, which is somewhat unusual, considering Stalkers are not supposed to have emotions. He regards her as a daughter.
- Hester was originally named Hester Shaugh, after Shaugh Prior, a Dartmoor village, but Philip Reeve decided to have names people can pronounce, so she became Hester Shaw.
- Hester Shaw is portrayed by Icelandic actress Hera Hilmar in the 2018 film adaptation of Mortal Engines.