Literature Commentary: Infernal Devices

31 Aug

(Originally published July 11, 2009)

After finishing – and savoring – “Mortal Engines” and “Predator’s Gold” I had to read the next installment of this postapocalyptic fantasy series…”Infernal Devices.” The “Hungry City Chronicles” certainly rank among some of my favorite books of all time…superior to both the Inheritance Trilogy and the Harry Potter novels.

“Infernal Devices” jumps forward sixteen years from “Predator’s Gold.” Tom Natsworthy and Hester Shaw are married and living with their teenaged daughter, Wren, in the city of Anchorage. When a group of thieves known as Lost Boys ask Wren to steal the mysterious “Tin Book” from the Anchorage library, Wren agrees in the hope of leaving her dreary, monotonous life behind. After a botched attempt to steal the book, Wren is kidnapped by the Lost Boys and taken to the floating city of Brighton, where she is enslaved by a villainous mayor.

Tom and Hester must go after her, plunging once again into a terrifying world of battle and betrayal. War between the Green Storm (a faction opposed to the giant traction cities), and the Traktionstadtsgesellschaft (an alliance of mobile cities…and yes, that is the proper spelling) is imminent, and skirmishes between these two armies flare up throughout the novel.

There are a lot of moral dilemmas in “Infernal Devices.” Characters constantly deceive, mislead, and betray each other in true “Pirates of the Caribbean” style, but this is never depicted in a positive light.

Hester Shaw is the emotional keystone of the story. Scarred both physically and psychologically by her tumultuous past, she is both a devoted wife and mother…and an utterly ruthless killing machine. For the most part, her husband Tom appears oblivious to these character flaws…but he is not without his own weaknesses. His secret desire for a normal life is the primary source of contention between them, along with his disapproval of her proclivity towards violence.

To be perfectly honest, “Infernal Devices” is not as good as “Mortal Engines” or “Predator’s Gold.” By introducing a myriad of new characters while retaining old ones, author Philip Reeve weakens the powerful dynamic between Tom, Hester, and their daughter. In my opinion, when formerly fast-paced stories get too “complicated,” a lot of their emotional depth is lost. This is one thing that the “City of Ember” series did extremely well – keeping things clear and simple throughout the course of the series. Also, Reeve’s treatment of a budding romance between Wren and the African slave boy Theo feels slightly ersatz…and far more artificial than the compelling relationship that developed between Tom and Hester in earlier books.

The violence is jacked up several notches from previous books. Numerous characters die, some in graphic ways (several characters are gunned down in cold blood, and a man’s skull is bashed in with a typewriter). A claw-to-claw battle between warrior cyborgs is particularly memorable…and vaguely reminiscent of this summer’s “Wolverine.” It’s nothing seriously offensive…but enough to bother sensitive readers. There’s some mild language, and a couple of veiled insinuations regarding illegitimate births, but language and sexual content are virtually non-issues.

All things considered, “Infernal Devices” is still a darn good book. It suffers from a lot of the same flaws as other “bridge” books – consider the bloated “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” – but it retains a lot of the charm and originality that made its precursors so memorable. Coming soon…a review of book 4: “A Darkling Plain.”

A well-written third installment, although not as compelling as its predecessors. Certainly worth reading.

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Posted by on August 31, 2009 in Sci-Fi


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