Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!
As of last week, it had been ages since I’ve read anything by Philip Reeve. I’d gotten through the whole Larklight trilogy in middle school and loved it, and I read Fever Crumb as well and wasn’t as much of a fan. I forgot about him for a while, until I got a recommendation from Sabrina (thank you!) about another series of his—the Railhead series. I decided to pick it up, and I ended up liking it—after reading this, I definitely want to see how the rest of the story goes!
Enjoy this week’s review!
In the distant future, it isn’t spaceships that transport humanity across the stars—it’s a massive network of trains. The Great Network spans across the entire galaxy, and one line can take you anywhere that you so choose. It’s the perfect place for Zen Starling, a young thief who makes a living from the goods he steals from passenger cars. But when he attracts the attention of the mysterious Raven, Zen finds himself entrenched in a royal conspiracy. Soon, his own identity as a nobody from the streets is called into question, and his success on Raven’s mission may determine the rest of his career.
TW/CW: violence (fairly mild), descriptions of killing animals/dead animals, fire, fear
It’s been about 5 years since I’ve read anything by Philip Reeve; I loved the Larklight trilogy but didn’t have the same luck with Fever Crumb, so he was generally hit-or-miss for me. But ultimately, I’m glad I picked Railhead up! It was the perfect antidote after reading something as heavy as Anthem; fun, light-hearted, and fast-paced. (Thanks again for the rec, Sabrina!)
The worldbuilding of Railhead made the whole book. It’s the kind of intricate worldbuilding that I aspire to have in my own writing; no stone is left unturned in terms of the little details that make the Great Network so genuine-feeling and fleshed out. Best of all, none of it is delivered in info-dumps; pieces of information are spaced out and don’t distract from the overall story. There was so much love put into every little nook and cranny of Reeve’s world, from the trains to the android history to the graffiti on the walls. I especially loved the Hive Monks—the concept behind them was so inventive! I wished we’d seen more of Uncle Bugs and the others.
As far as characters go, I didn’t get attached to many of them, but they were at least decently flushed out. Zen himself didn’t have many traits that would distinguish him from the average middle grade/YA protagonist, and having him get saddled with this trilogy’s equivalent of the chosen one trope didn’t exactly help his case. He was simply…alright for me. I felt the same way towards most of the other characters; they were distinct enough to not be trope-y, but not distinct enough to be rememberable. I did like Nova, though. She was my favorite out of the main cast—I liked her backstory a lot, and her being an android (or a “moto,” as is the lingo in Zen Starling’s world) added a unique layer to her story.
The plot itself was a little lacking for me, but its fast pace saved it. At its worst, the plot seemed to [Robert Plant voice] ramble on without any clear direction, but at its best, it was loads of fun. You do get the sense that you’re clinging to the top of a speeding train, the way the events move—it’s very fast-paced, and given both the setting and the premise, it’s perfect!
I wasn’t as invested in the main plot, but I tended to gravitate more towards the side plots, the short anecdotes that fleshed out Railhead’s world even more. The fact that I got more excited about seeing giant manta ray creatures and looking at the insides of futuristic trains than the actual should probably say something about the book itself, but those parts gave me joy, and that’s that. Again—it’s the tiny details that made Railhead as entertaining as it was.
All in all, a romp through a futuristic world at breakneck speed that shone in its detailed worldbuilding. I’m on board with continuing the rest of the series! 3.75 stars, rounded up to 4!
Railhead is the first book in the Railhead trilogy, and it is followed by Black Light Express (#2) and Station Zero (#3). Philip Reeve is also the author of the Larklight trilogy (Larklight, Starcross, and Mothstorm), the Mortal Engines quartet (Mortal Engines, Predator’s Gold, Infernal Devices, and A Darkling Plain), the Fever Crumb series (Fever Crumb, A Web of Air, and Scrivener’s Moon), and several other series for young adults and children.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!