Scrivener’s Moon by Philip Reeve (2011) 438 p.

Scrivener’s Moon is the third book in the Fever Crumb series, Philip Reeve’s prequel to his excellent Mortal Engines quartet. It begins with an excellent prologue and clever piece of storytelling which suggests that Reeve is bringing back his A-game.

The story begins with Fever returning to London after several years on the Continent, although to the horror of Eurosceptics, this series takes place in a post-apocalyptic future world where the North Sea has dried up and connected Britain to the mainland. Since Fever’s departure, the project to make London into a moving city is well underway, with much of the existing city having been demolished or stripped for raw materials, the populace living in tent towns clustered around the base of the great vehicle.

However, Fever soon sets off again, travelling north in search of a secret temple that holds the secrets of Stalker technology. And so Scrivener’s Moon is a road story, like the books of the Mortal Engines series, and unlike Fever Crumb and A Web of Air, which took place in single cities. There’s also some huge battles and explosions towards the end, which again is more like the previous books and less like what I’d expected to find from the Fever Crumb series.

Yet I’m not sure it works as well anymore, and I think it’s because Reeve’s heart isn’t in it. He’s clearly more interested now in character arc and relationships, and the battle scenes in Scrivener’s Moon felt like a throwback to something he didn’t really want to write about anymore. He’s mentioned a few times about how much he dislikes the airship tropes of young adult steampunk literature, which I suspect is why Fever Crumb‘s world is a flightless one, and I think battles and explosions and swashbuckling excitement come under the same heading.

Which is a shame, because although I personally prefer the cinematic high adventure of the Mortal Engines series, the Fever Crumb series was building its own character and style, and Reeve shouldn’t feel obliged to throw flashy battle scenes in for old fans. I still don’t think he’ll ever beat Hester Shaw (and in the Fever Crumb series he brings Shrike back a little too often), but there is some excellent character work in Scrivener’s Moon – particularly Charley Shallow, who returns from Fever Crumb and is built from the ground up as a study in how cruel and heartless villains come into being. Charley has both good and bad in him, and there are many crucial moments in both Fever Crumb and Scrivener’s Moon, where things could have turned out differently if someone had shown him kindness, or if he’d been strong enough himself not to take the selfish path. There’s also a very surprising development with Fever herself, which led me to think that maybe Reeve isn’t the religious conservative I had him pegged for.

In any case, take this review with a pinch of salt. The Mortal Engines series as a whole is in my top five favourite stories of all time, and I find it impossible to be objective about it. The Fever Crumb series has been very difficult to review, because I don’t like it nearly as much as the Mortal Engines quartet, and I find it hard to tell if it’s just a lack of nostalgia, or personal preference, or if Reeve really isn’t writing books as good as he used to. I still recommend this series, and consider it much better than most young adult fiction, but I also still consider it a pale shadow of the magnificence that is the Mortal Engines series.

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