Mortal Engines Wiki

For the film, see Mortal Engines (film).

Mortal Engines is the first book in the Mortal Engines Quartet, which is also known as the Hungry City Chronicles in the United States.[1] Published on 16 November 2001, it focuses on a futuristic, steampunk version of London, now a giant machine striving to survive on a world running out of resources. The book won a Nestlé Smarties Book Prize and the 2003 Blue Peter Book Award. It was shortlisted for the 2002 Whitbread Award, the 2004 ALA's Notable Books for Children award and the 2020 Blue Peter Awards 20th anniversary prize.[2][3][4]


Main article: Timeline

Mortal Engines is set in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by the Sixty Minute War, which caused mass geological upheaval. To escape the instabilities, a Nomad leader called Nikola Quercus (known as god Nicholas Quirke by the time of the book) installed huge engines and wheels on London, and enabled it to dismantle (or eat) other cities for resources. The technology rapidly spread, and evolved into what is known as "Municipal Darwinism", and the emergence of "traction cities". Although the planet has since become stable, Municipal Darwinism has spread to most of the world except for Asia and parts of Africa, with the primary location of many traction cities being the Great Hunting Ground.

Much technological and scientific knowledge was lost during the war. Because scientific progress has almost completely halted, "Old Tech" is highly prized and recovered by scavengers and archaeologists. Europe, some of Asia, North Africa, Antarctica, and the Arctic are dominated by traction cities, whereas North America was so ravaged by the war that it is often identified as the "Dead Continent", and the rest of the world is the stronghold of the Anti-Traction League, which seeks to keep cities from moving and thus stop the intense consumption of the planet's remaining resources.

Publisher's summary

London is on the move again. The city has been lying low, skulking in the hills to avoid the bigger, faster, hungrier cities loose in the Great Hunting Ground. The great town moves off after its quarry as events within the walls begin to take a sinister turn...


Part One

The book starts with the traction city of London chasing and catching a small mining town called Salthook. Tom Natsworthy, a teenage Apprentice Historian, is sent to the "Gut" of London, where towns are stripped for resources, after he skips a chore. Tom incidentally meets the Head of the Guild of Historians, Thaddeus Valentine, along with his daughter, Katherine. One of Salthook's citizens, teenager Hester Shaw, attempts to assassinate Valentine, but Tom interferes and chases her. She reveals a disfiguring scar on her face and claims Valentine caused it, before escaping the London police through a chute. When Tom informs Valentine of her name, the Historian pushes him down into the chute. Tom and Hester recover outside of London within the Hunting Ground, and after an argument start following the city's tracks to reboard it.

The pair eventually board a small town called Speedwell, where the owner Orme Wreyland attempts to harm them and schemes to sell the pair as slaves for profit at a trading cluster. Tom and Hester manage to escape from Wreyland, meeting a friendly airship pilot called Anna Fang, who takes them in her airship the Jenny Haniver to the neutral flying city of Airhaven, where they can find passage to London. At Airhaven, they are then attacked by a semi-robotic "Stalker" called Shrike, who was sent after them by the London Mayor Magnus Crome to kill them and bring their bodies to him.

Tom and Hester escape by stealing a hot-air balloon and drift over the Hunting Ground. Hester reveals that she knows Shrike, who took care of her after her parents were killed by Valentine as they would not give up an Old Tech machine. Valentine then scarred her and believed that she was dead. Escaping, she was taken care of by Shrike for most of her childhood, who despite believed to have no feelings, developed a father-like bond with her. Wanting to avenge her parents, Hester left Shrike despite his pleas for her to stay and travelled to London. Shrike followed her, reaching London first, but was captured by Crome and used to create more Stalkers for London.

Hester sees that a London-built scoutship is following them and lowers the balloon onto the Hunting Ground. The scoutship, piloted by Shrike, finds them and the Stalker confronts them. Before Shrike can explain why he wants Hester to die, two chasing towns run over him, whilst the pair manage to board the second, a pirate town called Tunbridge Wheels, which has the ability to both tread land and float above water. The mayor, Chrysler Peavey, who knows Hester from her days with Shrike, frees Tom as he is a resident of London and Peavey wishes to learn etiquette. Tom convinces him to free Hester, and Peavey informs them that he plans to consume the downed Airhaven. While charging at it, Tunbridge Wheels gets clawed open by rocks, sinking it whilst the survivors escape inland with Tom and Hester. Whilst attempting to feebly retake Airhaven, Peavey sinks in a bog before his pirate subordinates shoot him, then attempt to execute Tom and Hester, but Shrike intervenes and kills them. Shrike explains to Hester that Crome had agreed to resurrect Hester as a Stalker similar to him after he brings back her body. She agrees to this; however, Tom intervenes by stabbing Shrike in the chest, shutting him down and saving her life.

Valentine is sent away by Crome on a "secret mission", much to Katherine's dismay. Suspicious of her father, Katherine begins investigating events in London, along with Apprentice Engineer Bevis Pod, whom she befriends after discovering he witnessed Tom chasing Hester. They discover that Valentine salvaged an Old Tech weapon called MEDUSA for London, and that the Guild of Engineers have reassembled it inside St Paul's Cathedral. The Cathedral's dome transforms to reveal the weapon, which is then used to destroy a much larger city pursuing London.

Part Two

Tom and Hester are rescued by Fang, who is revealed to be an Anti-Traction League agent, and takes them to the Shield Wall of Batmunkh Gompa which protects the nation-state of the League, Shan Guo. Fang suspects that the weapon London has will be used to destroy the Shield Wall, and warns League Governor Khan of MEDUSA. Khan is sceptical that London will attack, but Fang insists that they should bomb London to destroy the weapon. Convinced that the League will kill innocent people, Tom storms out and discovers Valentine has infiltrated Batmunkh Gompa as a monk. Valentine cripples the entire fleet of airships, despite Tom raising the alarm. Valentine duels and kills Fang by stabbing her in the neck, before escaping in his own airship the 13th Floor Elevator. Tom and Hester take the Jenny Haniver, and fly it back to London in the hope of stopping Valentine and MEDUSA themselves.

With MEDUSA finally launched, Crome begins guiding London east towards the Shield Wall, to destroy their defences and devour all of their settlements. Katherine learns from Valentine after he returns that MEDUSA was originally found by Hester's mother Pandora, and that he had killed her to steal it for London. He also admits that Katherine was likely Hester's half sister. Disillusioned, and horrified by the destructive power of the weapon, Katherine and Bevis conspire to plant a bomb on MEDUSA to try and stop it from being used, but are caught in their attempt.

The Guild of Historians, led by the chief curator Chudleigh Pomeroy, come to their aid, and battle with the Engineers. Katherine travels up to St Paul's Cathedral, with Bevis disguised as her captor. Tom and Hester arrive, and the latter attempts to fight her way to Valentine to avenge her parents. Tom is attacked by the 13th Floor Elevator above London and shoots it down. Bevis is killed when the airship crushes him, but Katherine reaches the cathedral. Inside, she sees Hester brought before Valentine. When he attempts to kill her, Katherine jumps in the way and is fatally wounded. She falls onto a keyboard, interrupting the firing sequence of MEDUSA, and causing it to malfunction. Valentine and Hester, briefly putting aside their differences, try to take Katherine to Tom to get help, but she dies before they can.

Hester leaves with Tom in the Jenny Haniver, while Valentine chooses to stay behind in London. MEDUSA finally misfires, obliterating most of the city and killing Valentine. Hester tries to comfort a grief stricken Tom as they fly away in the Jenny Haniver, apparently the only survivors of the incident.


A few of the people in Mortal Engines are named after places in Devon, where Reeve lives, including Chudleigh, Tamerton Foliot and the River Plym. In the quartet, Miss Plym and Chudleigh Pomeroy are both in the Guild of Historians, and Tamarton Foliot is an "Alternative" historian. Both Shrike and Smew are named after birds, and Pennyroyal is named after a flower.[5]


The title is a quotation from Act III, Scene iii of William Shakespeare's play Othello ("Othello: And O you mortal engines whose rude throats/Th'immortal Jove's dread clamors counterfeit..." – Line 352). In the novel, it refers to the fact that the society of Municipal Darwinism is not sustainable living and that the cities' engines are indeed mortal.


His plans to write a science fiction novel were laid in the late 1980s.[6] At that time, he has stated that he originally thought of the idea of traction cities when people where complaining about the growth of a city that threatened to engulf smaller towns. A loosely-related short story Urbivore, as well as Orbital Trash, written earlier served as a basis for the novel. It has several similarities and differences to the eventual settings of the story.

The characters where originally going to be adults, but he later changed them to teenagers. The original drafts were intended to be an adult novel but after several rejections, Scholastic said they might be interested in Mortal Engines as a children's story. In the refactoring the story was simplified, removing several characters and much content such as the city politics that Reeve thought would not be interesting to children.[7]

The Mortal Engines world was originally written as an alternative universe set in the early 1900s, but Reeve says this turned out to require just too much explaining as how and where history could have diverged. He was inspired to start then due to The War of the Worlds.[7] As Philip Reeve was an illustrator when he was writing Mortal Engines, it took over six years to write between different jobs.


Main article: Mortal Engines (film)

A film adaptation by Peter Jackson was announced in 2009.[2] However, the project languished for years due to Jackson having to helm The Hobbit following the departure of Guillermo del Toro. So in October 2016, he announced that the film would be his next project as producer and co-writer, alongside long-time collaborators Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. The film was directed by Jackson's long-time collaborator Christian Rivers.[8][9]

It was criticized for changing the book's climax and ending, removing the book's social commentary and satire, and its portrayal of Hester Shaw as a more traditionally heroic character, although the design of the traction cities and Robert Sheehan's performance were praised.

On November 18, 2020, upon asked whether Mortal Engines would be rebooted for the television screens, particularly for streaming, Reeve responded that, while that would be nice, it seemed unlikely.[10][11]



  1. Baker, Deirdre (4 August 2012). "More, What Came from the Stars, Summer of the Gypsy Moths, Mortal Engines, The Girl With Borrowed Wings: mini reviews". Toronto Star. Toronto, Ontario. Retrieved 9 August 2012.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Miska, Brad (22 December 2009). "Peter Jackson Sets Sights on Post-Apocalyptic Terror". Bloody Disgusting. Archived from the original on 24 December 2009.
  3. "2004 Notable Children's Books". Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC).
  4. BookTrust (20 February 2020). "Blue Peter celebrates 20 years of favourite children's books – time to pick a winner!". BookTrust.
  5. Jones, Rhys (9 October 2010). "An Interview with Philip Reeve".
  6. "The Mortal Engines Quartet…". Archived from the original on 1 June 2014.
  7. 7.0 7.1 SFFS Guest Talk – Philip Reeve. Nottingham University: YouTube. Archived from the original on 6 June 2016.
  8. Evans, Alan (25 October 2016). "Peter Jackson to produce film based on Mortal Engines books". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 25 October 2016.
  9. "Peter Jackson to try his hand at dystopian YA films with Mortal Engines". 25 October 2016. Archived from the original on 25 October 2016.
  10. Bujak, Gabrielle (13 November 2020). "Why HBO Should Reboot Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines UnBoxed Life". UnBoxed Life.
  11. Reeve, Philip (18 November 2020). "Philip Reeve on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 17 January 2020. "I have no idea! It would be nice, but it seems unlikely."
  • Keazor, Henry (2010). "'Mortal Engines' und 'Infernal Devices': Architektur- und Technologie-Nostalgie bei Philip Reeve". In Böhn, Andreas; Möser, Kurt (eds.). Techniknostalgie und Retrotechnologie. pp. 129–147.

Mortal Engines Series
Fever CrumbA Web of AirScrivener's Moon
Traction CityThe Haunted SkyNight Flights
In the Bleak Midwinter
Mortal EnginesPredator's GoldInfernal DevicesA Darkling Plain
The Traction CodexThe Illustrated World of Mortal Engines
Mortal Engines (film)