For the upcoming movie based on the book 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. The book has won a Nestlé Smarties Book Prize and was shortlisted for the 2002 Whitbread Award.
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...
The book opens with London chasing the town of Salthook over the dry bed of the North Sea, into Europe (now known as the Great Hunting Ground). The city has been lurking in what was formerly Britain, but for some reason the Mayor has decided to head back out into the Hunting Ground. The Londoners do not care why; they are simply happy to catch prey again, as Salthook is soon captured and dragged aboard.
Tom is happy to see Salthook captured, as he has been brought up to believe in Municipal Darwinism. While he is watching the catch he hits another apprentice Historian who was bullying him. As punishment he is sent to work in the city's Gut for the night, to ensure that any valuable historical artifacts found in Salthook are not burned up for fuel with the rest of the town.
Tom is surprised to find that Thaddeus Valentine, the adventurous and charming leader of the Guild of Historians, is overseeing him that night. He idolises Valentine, and is pleased to meet his hero - especially when he is introduced to his beautiful daughter Katherine. Tom starts enjoying his night, finding an ancient "seedy" (a Compact Disc) and developing a crush on Katherine.
While they pass a line of Salthook's former citizens (who are now being processed and becoming citizens of London), a girl pulls out a knife and attacks Valentine. Tom throws her off, foiling the intended assassination, and chases the girl as she flees through the Gut. Tom reaches her just before she jumps out of a waste chute, and is shocked to see that her face is horribly scarred. She tells Tom that her name is Hester Shaw and that Valentine had scarred her face. Valentine catches up to Tom just as she jumps down the chute, and Tom tells him what happened. Valentine tells Tom not to worry, but Tom is rudely shocked as Valentine pushes him down the chute after her because he knew her name.
Tom awakens on the bare mud of the Great Hunting Ground, a desolate wasteland stretching in every direction. Hester Shaw is there. She claims that Valentine killed her parents, and starts following London's wheel marks to try and catch up to it. Tom has no idea what to do, so he follows her.
The next morning, an upset Katherine is told by Valentine that Hester dragged Tom down the chute with her. Magnus Crome, the Lord Mayor, arrives at their home and has a private discussion which Katherine eavesdrops on. She finds out that Crome is sending Valentine on a reconnaissance flight between London and its mysterious goal, and that he is preparing something called "MEDUSA".
Tom and Hester keep walking through the Hunting Ground, and Hester tells Tom about her parents. They were killed by Valentine when she was young, because her mother refused to give him something called "MEDUSA". Later that day they encounter a small town Speedwell, and Tom trades his seedy for some food. Unfortunately, they are tricked and drugged, with the intention of being sold as slaves at an upcoming "trading cluster" (a gathering of small towns for trading purposes).
Back on London, Crome speaks to a mysterious agent named Shrike, instructing him to take an airship and hunt down Hester Shaw. Valentine leaves on his reconnaissance mission, and Katherine decides to investigate about MEDUSA in his absence.
Tom and Hester escape from captivity, and a pilot named Anna Fang agrees to help them get home to London. She takes them aboard her airship, the Jenny Haniver, and they fly to Airhaven, an airborne Traction City kept aloft by an array of balloons. While eating at a cafe with some of Anna's friends, they are attacked by Shrike, who has managed to track them down. It is revealed that he is a Stalker, a robotic killing machine containing a human brain. In the resulting battle Airhaven is greatly damaged, but Tom and Hester manage to escape in an airship.
While they drift away on the wind, Hester tells Tom that she used to know Shrike. He found her half-dead after her parents' murder, when she was abandoned in the Great Hunting Ground, and he raised her. When she found out who Valentine was, and swore revenge, Shrike forbade her from going. So she ran away from him, and when she finally did find Valentine Tom thwarted her assassination attempt. However, she has no idea why Shrike was on a mission from the Lord Mayor of London.
The balloon eventually drifts down in the Rustwater Marshes (somewhere in Central Asia), and while Tom and Hester fly through the Rustwater marshes,Shrike catches up to them again. Hester asks him how he knows the Lord Mayor, and he replies that he went to London looking for her, but found Magnus Crome instead. Crome sent Shrike after Hester, in return for "his heart's desire." Before it is revealed what that is, Shrike is run over by a speeding town, which Tom and Hester narrowly avoid being run over by.They board the town that was chasing it and find that it is a pirate suburb, and they are taken captive.
Back on London, Katherine makes an appointment with Crome, who refuses to tell her anything. She decides to track down an apprentice Engineer who was nearby the waste chute the night Tom and Hester disappeared, and is horrified by the conditions she finds down in the Gut. Prisoners are being worked to death, and fed on their own faeces. She finds the apprentice, however, a pale boy her age named Bevis Pod. Bevis tells her that he thinks the Guild is building Stalkers, and that MEDUSA is some kind of device that London is relying on for survival. He agrees to help her sneak into a Guild meeting to discover more.
Meanwhile, Hester finds that she knows the mayor of the pirate suburb; his name is Chrysler Peavey, and she met him while she lived with Shrike. He refuses to let them go, until he realises that Tom is a Londoner. Peavey has delusions of becoming a gentleman, and agrees to free them if Tom teaches him etiquette.
The pirate suburb is heading through the marshes towards a mysterious prize. Ahead of them lies the Sea of Khazak, and a place called the Black Island, which houses a small static town and a refueling depot for airships. Peavey reveals that Airhaven has landed there to repair, and he intends to seize it. His suburb is amphibious, and inflates air-tanks to cross the sea to the Black Island.
Back in the Rustwater Marshes, Shrike pulls himself free of the mud, having survived being run over. He follows the suburb's trail.
The Jenny Haniver bombs the suburb before it reaches the island,and Peavey reveals that Anna Fang is an Anti-Traction League agent. While crossing the Sea of Khazak, the suburb runs into a reef and sinks, Tom, Hester, Peavey and a handful of pirates reach the shores. Peavey refuses to give up and leads them onward, despite the fact they no longer have any chance of capturing Airhaven. As Airhaven is about to take off, Peavey is caught in quicksand and his pirates mutiny and shoot him before he sinks. They accuse Tom and Hester of ruining their lives, and are about to kill them when Shrike shows up and kills the pirates.
That same night on London, Katherine and Bevis sneak into a secret Guild meeting and learn that MEDUSA is an ancient superweapon recovered from an American military base. Crome intends to use it to break through the Shield-Wall, an immense fortress-city blocking the only pass into the lands of the Anti-Traction League, protecting them from hungry cities. First, however, he intends to test fire it. The Engineers watch, entranced, as the dome on top of St. Paul's Cathedral begins to open.
On the Black Island, Shrike reveals that "his heart's desire" was Hester as a Stalker; in return for killing her, Crome agreed to resurrect her as Shrike's mechanical daughter. He is about to kill her when Tom grabs a sword from one of the fallen pirates and kills him. Hester screams at Tom, claiming she would have been happier as a Stalker. Their fight is interrupted as the northern sky fills with a green light.
On London, Katherine and Bevis watch as MEDUSA fires a brilliant ray of energy at a city that had been chasing London. It is incinerated entirely, and they are horrified, but the people of London only cheer.
On the Black Island, Tom and Hester are found by a patrol that includes Anna Fang. Tom is shocked to find that she is an agent of the Anti-Traction League, but realises she is still his friend. She tells him that she suspects the green flash was related to MEDUSA, and has learnt that London is headed for the Shield-Wall. Tom and Hester agree to go there with her.
They fly east in the Jenny Haniver, stopping at several Traction Cities which are all fleeing away from the scene where MEDUSA was fired, terrified that London is unstoppable. After flying over the Himalayas, which have grown to encircle the entire land of Shan Guo (leading nation of the Anti-Traction League), they arrive at the Shield-Wall: a massive wall of basalt and metal built across a mountain pass, with the city of Batmunkh Gompa built on its interior side. Tom and Hester attend a military strategy meeting, where Anna Fang urges the governor of the Shield-Wall to launch his fleet of gunships and destroy London before it can come into range. Tom is upset at this, and goes to explore the city and come to grips with his feelings. While exploring, he recognises Valentine in disguise, and follows him.
As London heads towards the mountains, Katherine spends much time in the History Museum, where she is hiding Bevis from his superiors, and slowly falling in love with him. While speaking with some of the Historians, she learns that her father used to go on expeditions with a woman named Pandora Shaw, and finds that she was murdered six or seven years ago, leaving behind a daughter named Hester Shaw. Katherine realises that her father must have killed Hester's parents, and is heartbroken.
At the Shield-Wall, Tom loses track of Valentine and goes to warn Anna Fang instead. She suspects Valentine's mission is to destroy the Shield-Wall's air fleet, and goes to stop him. Tom then finds Hester and tells her that Valentine is in Batmunkh Gompa. They go to the top of the Shield-Wall, where the fleet is burning, and chasing after Hester, Tom gets lost in a maze of tunnels that go through the wall. He emerges on a battlement where Anna Fang and Valentine are locked in a sword fight. Valentine, however, is no match for Fang who eventually disarms him. Valentine manages to buy enough time for his airship to arrive, which distracts Fang long enough for him to grab his fallen sword and run her through. With her last breath, Anna Fang promises Valentine that Hester Shaw will find him. Thaddeus leaps off the battlements onto his airship, to escape.
Tom links up with Hester and they realise they have to stop London from reaching the Shield-Wall; now that the fleet has been destroyed, it is defenceless. They take the Jenny Haniver and follow Valentine's airship west, towards London.
At the same time, Katherine and Bevis are assembling a bomb to try and destroy MEDUSA. They are discovered by security from the Guild of Engineers, but the Historians help them escape. They reach the Top Tier, where a function is being held to celebrate the arrival of London at the Shield Wall, and Bevis hastily hugs Katherine and whispers "I love you". Tom sets Hester down on the same tier, and promises to circle and return for her, but he is attacked by Valentine's airship (which has already dropped Valentine off at the function). Tom shoots the airship down, and it lands in a fiery heap on the Top Tier, killing Bevis.
Hester is captured by the Guild of Engineers' security Stalkers, and taken to St. Paul's. Valentine and Crome are there, preparing to fire MEDUSA. Katherine arrives just as Valentine is about to kill Hester, and throws herself in front of the blow, run through by his sword. She falls on MEDUSA's keyboard, damaging it, and Valentine calls for help. Only Hester helps him; the Engineers are worrying about MEDUSA.
The flames from Valentine's airships are consuming the Top Tier, and Valentine and Hester carry Katherine out onto the roof of St.Paul's. Tom brings the Jenny Haniver down to rescue them, but Katherine has died, and Valentine shouts at Hester to save herself. She jumps onto the airship, and they fly away just as MEDUSA's energy beam misfires, incinerating the device along with most of London.
Tom is devastated over the loss of his city, and of Katherine - but he realises he barely knew Katherine, and it is Hester that he loves. Together the two of them fly away in the Jenny Haniver to start a new life.
"Seems to have leapt fully formed from a startling imagination...a gripping yarn." - Daily Telegraph
"Truly memorable characters...this big, brave, brilliant book combines a thrilling adventure story with endless moral conundrums...the reader is constatly forced to reassess his or her attitudes." - Guardian
"No 11-16 year-old should miss this superbly imagined debut novel from Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines." - The Times
"A magnificent story and one of the most compelling things I have read so far this year." - The Bookseller
"Reeve's brilliant debut is a blend of romance, adventure, horror and crime mystery...Reeve plunges us into a facinating new world, rich in witty detail!" - Kennith Law, 13, Glasgow Times
"A good, meaty adventure story...a fantastic read - as thrilling as it is morally challenging" - Guardian
"A brilliant debut story from an obliviously gifted storyteller. More please - and soon!" - The Bookseller
"The characters are a marvellous gallery of groteques, and the descriptions are compelling...the story has dreamlike intensity" - Independent
Nestlé Smarties Book Prize (winner)
Whitbread Award (shortlisted)
Blue Peter Book of the Year 2003 (winner)
Peter Jackson is reported to be secretly adapting Mortal Engines for the big screen, with WETA designing cities. There have been previous attempts to adapt Mortal Engines for the big screen, but Philip Reeve has declined the offers, as he doesn't want it to be changed too much.