A Darkling Plain by Philip Reeve

Scholastic, 2006, 580 p, plus i p Acknowledgements and vii p Timeline of the Traction Era.

A Darkling Plain cover

This is the last in Reeve’s Predator Cities series of novels, continuing on from where we left off in Infernal Devices.

Tom Natsworthy now with a dicky heart after his shooting by Professor Nimrod Pennyroyal, and his daughter, Wren, are trying to pick up the pieces of their lives since their estrangement from Hester Shaw (respectively his wife and her mother.) In Wren’s case this is made easier by her attachment to Theo Ngoni. The plot kicks off when Tom thinks he recognises a woman, Clytie Potts, from his days in the now destroyed London, but she disclaims all knowledge of him. However an encounter with Wolf Kobold, the son of the ruler of the traction city Murnau leads to them going on his “suburb” Harrrowbarrow through the lines of the anti-traction army the Green Storm to where the remains of London lie in its surrounding debris fields. London turns out to be not quite the derelict it appears. Its surviving inhabitants have taken great care to keep themselves secret as they build a new city capable of magnetic levitation on the Earth’s Magnetic field.

Things haven’t gone entirely smoothly, though, as Wren and Theo have been separated by his enslavement – from which he is rescued by Hester. Other characters to reappear from the earlier books are the aforementioned Professor and the machine-like Shrike and Anna Fang. The latter of these drives part of the plot as she is able to control an orbiting WMD called ODIN using it against both sides of the traction city wars to undo a peace initiative.

As usual in YA fiction there is an abundance of action and incident, though a degree of coyness with matters of attraction between the sexes. Reeve lards his text with extratextural references (some of which may go over the heads of a YA audience.) We have characters named Lurpak, Nutella, Lego and Duplo, a street in Murnau called Über-den-Linden, a traction city named Peripatetiopolis, stories of awful salvage-stealing Wombles, a tunnel-like street called Holloway Road – heavy-handedly re-stated as Hollow-Way Road – mistakes about old-time usages (contract lenses,) and mention of a statue of Thatcher, the all-devouring goddess of unfettered Municipal Darwinism. I did wonder whether Cynthia Twite was possibly a nod to Joan Aitken’s Black Hearts in Battersea.

All great fun if you like that sort of thing and not entirely without jeopardy but one caveat.

I know the concept of predatory cities roaming the plains aiming to devour each other is an extrapolation ad absurdum but is the emphasis on violence not perhaps an unsuitable way to socialise the young?

Pedant’s corner:- burgermeister (burgomeister, but presumably Reeve didn’t want to alienate his YA audience,) “the Green Storm were” (the Green Storm was,) “than the old-fashioned jigs and reels than Wren had learned” (that Wren had leatned,) off-of (off,) “the old brake-blocks which supports Crouch End’s roof” (brake-blocks which support.) “Was that was this was all about?” (Was that what this was all about?) “Stories which she had had scoffed at” (only one “had” required,) “wondering where he had sprung him” (sprung from.) “A group of Green Storm aviators were running” (a group was running,) “one less regret” (one fewer.) “A party of his men were herding ..” (a party was herding,) “a saucer-shaped antennae” (antennae is the plural, one of them is an antenna.)

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