Friday, January 15, 2016

Scrivener's Moon by Philip Reeve


Rating: WORTHY!

This is an oddball steampunk novel to which I took an initial liking, and that stayed with me apart from an unfortunate dip in the middle, but overall I consider it a worthy read. It's always nice to find a novel that gets you right from the start. It's read by Sarah Coombes who has a delightful British accent and does a nice range of voices, including a beautiful Scots accent too, but her voicing of male characters is a bit off, and rather grating. Apart from that I really liked it. I'm picky, I admit, so it was nice to have a reader who didn't irritate me.

Note that this is book 3 of a series (the Fever Crumb series) and I haven't read books one and two. Evidently it's also tied to Author Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines series which I haven't read either. I wasn't even aware that there was a series when I picked this audio book up in the library, since the morons in Big Publishing™ seem to have a huge problem with actually putting the book series information on the cover or in the blurb. That said, I was able to get into it without any problem. Obviously I don't know what I'm missing from the first two, if anything, and whether or not that would improve my appreciation of this particular volume, but this one didn't start out like it was one of a continuing series, so perhaps I'm missing nothing.

Normally I skip prologues like the plague since I don't see the point. This book proved my case. The entire three volume set is a prologue to his Mortal engines series! But, it's hard to skip prologues in audio books, since you can't see where they are or be sure that the first thing you listen to actually is a prologue if it's not announced as such, nor can you see where to jump to in order to bypass it arrive at chapter one. So I ended up listening to this prologue, and as expected. it contributed nothing.

The hilarious thing was that this is book three! Were not books one and two the prologue to this volume? If so, why do we need a yet another prologue here in volume three, especially one which contributed zilch to reader information or appreciation?! I think authors put prologues in because they think they have to, or because they're simply pretentious or melodramatic. They just don't get it, so let me offer this newsflash: chapter one is the prologue, you hockey pucks! I've never read a book where I've had to go back and consult the prologue to get an understanding of what's going on in the novel. Not once. I rest my case. Prologues are a delusional waste of time and worse, a waste of trees in print books.

That said, the story itself is nicely done in the steampunk genre with a twist. There was a nice emphasis on engineering, which I like and admire. Where would we be without engineers? And we definitely need more female engineers. Victorian times were a wonderful era for some amazing feats of engineering. People talk of the Pyramids as great engineering efforts, but all those guys did was stack block on top of each other! The Romans were engineers. The Victorians were engineers. Today we have engineers!

This novel however, is not set in Victorian times, which is another reason it's different. This is set in a future where some catastrophe (known melodramatically as The Diminishing) has set back humanity and reduced our numbers catastrophically - an era which could still come down the pipe if we don't take care of climate change, fresh water shortage, and disease. In the novel, all of the technology of today has gone, and we have been set back to the age of steam in a world where populations have splintered, barbarian tribes threaten England, and an ice age seems to be encroaching more and more territory. How things became so bad that we reverted to a steam age is not explained in this volume. I don't know if the earlier volumes offer more details.

Mammoths, for reasons unspecified, seem to have been brought back from extinction big time, although they're really just bystanders in this volume, so I did't get the point. There are actually three projects attempting to achieve this in real life as it happens, though. The entire mammoth genome (at least for one species of mammoth) has been recreated, but that was the easy part. Getting a healthy and viable fetus from a genome is something only nature has perfected, and even it has problems at times. Human science is far behind, so while we will probably see a mammoth again, it's going to be a while. Given how scientific knowledge and technology have been so completely lost, Reeve fails (at least in this volume) to explain how it was that the mammoth genome was not only preserved, but the technology to recreate it also survived whatever disaster befell humanity. Maybe they had been created before the disaster fell.

These threatening circumstances are the reason an engineer has decided to put London on wheels - yes, the entire city - so it can move around on tank tracks, to keep it safe from encroaching ice and barbarian raids. Absurd, but where would we be without fiction like that to set us back on our heels and amaze and intrigue us? Talking of which, in this world there are three intriguing females. Wavy, who is a mystery, her daughter Fever Crumb, who is an engineer, and Cluny Morvish, a woman is who very much Fever's equal, but who is on the opposite side of a brewing war. Fever and her mom are of the scrivener bloodline, but it's unclear exactly what that is. Again, this may have been covered in earlier volumes, but it was unexplained here.

In addition to these is Charley Shallow, the designated mustache-twirling villain although he is clean-shaven. I found him uninteresting (right through to the end, as it happens, and quickly took to skipping tracks on which he appeared. At the end, I didn't feel like I had missed a thing.

The story kicks into gear - brass gear no doubt - when information comes to Wavy about a mysterious pyramid in the frozen north - one which has a reputation both for being haunted and for being impregnable. The information is that a crack has opened up in it. Wavy and her daughter head north on a land ship to investigate.

For me, this is where the story went south, paradoxically. This is a quest story in many ways, and the goal is this pyramid, but when Fever and Her mom get to it (and meet up with Cluny on the way) Reeve expends a pitiful few pages on the thing, reveals virtually nothing about it, and then it's destroyed. I didn't get that at all. What was the point? Well the point was that i was ready to give up on the nbvoel after that, and the only thing which kept me reaidng was Cluny and Fever's interactions, wihc far form being instadore were relaistic and captivating. These two were os much alike in ways it would spoil the sotry to relate, but they were laso on opposite sides, and the frictiona dn tension between them was palpable.

To me they were really the only thing worth reading about in this book, and it was far too little, but what there was, was pure gold, particularly the ending sequence, which is why I finally decided I could rate this novel as a worthy read. I noticed that some reviewers had described this relationship as insta-love (or instadore as I term it since no actual love is ever involved in these relationships, especially when written by female authors of young adult paranormal stories. Those reviewers missed the point.

Cluny and Fever had significant ties which went outside the normal range of interaction and which for me explained their attraction to and fascination with one another. One was something which happened to each of them in their respective childhoods. Another was their isolation from real family and friends. Another was their being so alike yet on opposite sides. Another was their desire to see justice. Another was that each in turn was the captive of the other and was rescued by the other from imminent death. I don't see how they could not have been drawn together and bonded.

So overall, I recommend this and while some of it was boring to me, it's well-worth reading for the relationship.


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