Predator’s Gold, first published in 2003, is the sequel to Mortal Engines, the first book in the Mortal Engines quartet. I read Mortal Engines last year, and absolutely loved it; it’s taken me longer than I’d have liked to hunt down and devour Predator’s Gold, but now I have, I’m delighted with it.
The Mortal Engines books take place in a world which has been ravaged, almost one thousand years in the past, by what was dubbed the ‘Sixty Minute War.’ Everything we might be familiar with has been destroyed, or changed utterly, including the cities, which are now not fixed and stable but mobile, travelling around what remains of the earth on massive caterpillar tracks. These ‘traction cities’, arranged in tiers like a large cake or (as I imagined it) the decks of a ship, run on steam-power and ingenuity, and can be home to thousands of people. Some – like London, the primary setting for the first novel, and Anchorage, aboard which much of this second novel takes place – have names which we might recognise, but others (like Traktiongrad and Peripatetiapolis) are wonderful half-understood places, which we don’t see but whose existence adds texture and fullness to the novel’s imaginary world. One of the many things I loved about this book, and its predecessor, is its use of words, including names and puns and references to our reality. The best of these, for me, was the inclusion of the lost map of Vineland which, in this fictional world, purports to show the way to the green, empty plains of America (or what is left of it, at least); to this ex-medievalist reader, that reference raised a grin.
Our hero (Tom Natsworthy) and heroine (Hester Shaw) escaped the clutches of Shrike, a reanimated corpse-cum-cyborg, in the first novel, and, at the opening of Predator’s Gold, find themselves aboard the airship Jenny Haniver, bequeathed to them by the deceased aviatrix Anna Fang. They have spent two years since the events of Mortal Engines falling in love and becoming an inseparable couple (though the mechanics of this isn’t hugely focused on in the book, and it certainly isn’t a soppy ‘romance’ by any stretch of the imagination), as well as travelling the world, earning their living. In the port of Airhaven they are approached by a certain Professor Pennyroyal, who convinces them to take him on board as a passenger (in reality, he is fleeing a creditor), and they leave in haste. Their airship, recognised as the one which used to be flown by the late, lamented Fang, is attacked and chased by enemies unknown, and in the course of making good their escape, Tom, Hester and the good Professor are rescued by the city of Anchorage. Under the rule of its young margravine, Freya Rasmussen, the city of Anchorage is making for the mythical land of America, where green and pleasant land is rumoured to lie. The radioactivity left over from the Sixy Minute War is supposed to have dissipated enough to make the country livable, and so – based on nothing more than rumour and legend – the desperate city is making its way across the icy wastes in the hope of reaching sanctuary. One of the main sources for these rumours and legends is none other than Professor Pennyroyal himself, who has earned a pretty penny (royal or not) from writing books about the bountiful land of America which he has supposedly visited and explored in detail. So, when he arrives in her city, Freya is only too delighted to receive him, and immediately appoints him Navigator.
Gradually, unease begins to grow between Hester and Freya, focused (of course) on Tom, but this isn’t the usual ‘teenage girls being stupid over a boy’ nonsense. Freya, as her city’s leader, needs to make a good marriage to keep her line going, and after a plague aboard Anchorage claimed most of her prospects, along with both her parents, she sees Tom as more than just a handsome stranger. He is the future of her family. Hester, naturally enough, isn’t happy about this. In a course of action which the reader at once deplores and completely understands, Hester takes her leave of Anchorage and does something devastating in an effort to win Tom back; of course, it spectacularly backfires, leaving Hester captive and a massive predator city on Anchorage’s trail.
For, of course, in this world, Municipal Darwinism reigns supreme. The larger cities hunt, eat, and destroy the smaller ones, and it is most definitely ‘survival of the fittest’ – or the fastest. Because of Hester’s actions, Anchorage and all its passengers, including Tom, are left in mortal danger – and there’s nothing she can do.
Until she meets another Stalker, one who was, while alive, a person Hester knew quite well…
Predator’s Gold is an excellent book, with a rich and complex plot, and this summary has only given the bare bones of one of its many storylines. I haven’t told you about Uncle and his team of burglars, or Windolene Pye, or the loyal Smew. I certainly haven’t mentioned Widgery Blinkoe and his five wives. You’ll have to read the book yourself to find out all about them, and I sincerely hope you do.
If I was forced to make a criticism of Predator’s Gold, I’d have to say that I felt the ending was a little hasty. It seemed like things were wrapped up too quickly, in a sort of ‘and then this happened, and that happened, and finally this happened, and then it was happily ever after’ way, instead of the tense, dramatic and powerfully described style which preceded it. I’m not sure why this is: setting up the third novel, perhaps. Making the reader impatient for more. Whatever the reason, I’m sure there was one, and one thing I know for sure – I’m now on the hunt for Infernal Devices, book three of the quartet. Onward, traction cities!