The Mortal Engines Quartet (Hungry City Chronicles in the United States), also known as the Predator Cities Quartet, is a series of epic young adult fantasy novels by Philip Reeve. He began the first volume of the series, Mortal Engines, in the 1980s, and it was published in 2001. Reeve then published three further novels, Predator's Gold in 2003, Infernal Devices in 2005, and A Darkling Plain in 2006. These have won a number of awards, including the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize in 2002 for Mortal Engines and the 2006 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize and the 2007 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Fiction for A Darkling Plain.
The novels focus on a hypothetical future taking place thousands of years after a deadly war between Greater China and the American Empire where the majority of settlements have converted themselves into traction cities and where technology from before the conflict is known as Old Tech and is significantly more advanced than anything that emerged afterwards.
Sometimes referred to within the Mortal Engines community as the "original quartet", the Mortal Engines Quartet is the core of a larger franchise, which includes a prequel trilogy, the Fever Crumb series; several short stories, two spin-off books, The Traction Codex and The Illustrated World of Mortal Engines; and a film adapted from the first book.
In March 2020 Reeve said "too much time has passed since I wrote the other books, it’s hard to go back to that world" and that he did not intend to publish further books in the series.
His plans to write a science fiction novel were laid in the late 1980s. 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.
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. As Philip Reeve was an illustrator when he was writing Mortal Engines, it took over six years to write between different jobs.
- Main article: Timeline
The Quartet is set in the far distant future, in an age known as the Traction Era. Earth has been reduced to wasteland by a devastating conflict, known as the Sixty Minute War. Nations no longer exist, except in the lands of the Anti-Traction League; Traction Cities - entire cities mounted on caterpillar tracks for mobility - are fiercely independent city-states, using giant jaws to devour one another for resources. Trade is mostly accomplished by airship, though sometimes cities of roughly equal size (unable to devour each other) will stop to trade. Old Tech is the most sought-after commodity.
As well as the main quartet, Philip Reeve has also written a prequel called Fever Crumb. The story is set nearly 700 years before the events of Mortal Engines, during the time of the Great Nomad Wars. Traction Cities have not yet been created. The main character is Fever Crumb, an odd looking girl and adoptive daughter of Dr Crumb. This book has its own sequels Web of Air and Scrivener's Moon which detail the reconstructing of London as a traction city and the world pre the rise of traction.
- Main article: Mortal Engines (film)
In 2009, Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, expressed interest in directing the film adaptations. He ended up producing and co-writing the film adaptation of the first book in the Quartet. The film is directed by Christian Rivers. The movie is based on the novel Mortal Engines, adapted to screen by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson. It stars Hugo Weaving, Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide, and Stephen Lang. The film was released in theaters on 6 December 2018, received mixed reviews and was a commercial failure.
So far, the Mortal Engines Quartet has influenced other works, especially after the release of the 2018 film adaptation. The Amazon TV series Carnival Row has a premise that can be described as a "mish-mash of influences and inspirations, from Neil Gaiman to Mortal Engines (the novels not the film)".
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- Sam Brooks (August 30, 2019). "Review: Carnival Row is stuck in the fantasy ghetto mud". The Spinoff.
- Helen A. Lee (8 February 2021). "The Underrated Fantasy Series Fans Can't Stop Binging On Amazon Prime". Looper.
- 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.