Mortal Engines - Philip Reeve
Mortal Engines occupies the same kind of Young Adult fiction space as Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials - the same kind of non-standard fantasy world that's actually science fiction, albeit not reaching the same giddy heights of imagination; the same kind of teenagers-versus-the-system conflict, but shying away from any real kind of statement; the same kind of awkward, adolescent romance, but not nearly as likely to make you cry.
I'm sure all these were points Reeve's publishers considered when they decided to run this book out of the presses. They are not the reasons I am going to tell you to read this book. Reeve's single greatest strength is his characters: all of them memorable, visually well-defined, larger than life and yet strangely believable - whether its dashing aviatrix Anna Fang or the ambiguously human war machine Shrike.
The story is related as two concurrent but distinct threads, and I have to say that I found the one that stayed behind in London (in the world of Mortal Engines, a city that is now both mobile and carnivorous) to be pretty boring. The other half, following a naive Londoner who's left behind by his city and forced into a reluctant partnership with a scarred and vengeful girl, stood head and shoulders above it - not least because I found the way their friendship progresses from awkward distrust to a strong (if still awkward) bond to be very touching.
Okay, the plotting is pretty, shall we say, 'loose' - everything makes logical sense, but the connections often seem a little shaky, and the foreshadowing is usually either too much, too soon or too little, too late, but still, in terms of memorable characters and relationships, this book looks set to stick in my mind for some time. (But then, there are three sequels to read as well.)