Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Child of the Adventuress: Philip Reeve, Infernal Devices (London: Scholastic Press, 2005).

The sequel to Mortal Engines and Predator's Gold finds Tom and Hester grown up (36, my own age--ouch), living in Anchorage which has settled on the coast of America, and with a fifteen year old daughter of their own, Wren.

I truly don't want to spoil this book for people so I will just say that Wren, in search of excitement, follows the Lost Boys and ends up kidnapped and a slave. Reeve, as ever the wry satirist, comes out with some briliantly sly lines.

Later, Wren would sometimes tell people that she knew what it was like to be a slave, but she didn't, not really." (111)

Reeve has worked out how to write Grand Romance without writing sentiment, and this ties in with the one thing I do want to talk about which is how Reeve writes the generational shift in this book, because he seems to write it with an awareness of the cultural shaping of childhood we've discussed.

For most of the book, Wren waits to be rescued. She does show some ingenuity, but never quite enough and is unable to effect her own release. In the end, it is Tom and Hester who enable her to get away. Now some of this may be because the story is really Tom and Hester's--interesting stuff happens there which will presumably be picked up in the final book A Darkling Plain--but Reeve also makes it quite clear that it is in part because Wren is a child of different circumstances. Tom and Hester, abandoned orphans with only their own wits to rely on, were tough and ingenious characters, and Tom was gentler because he had experienced a kinder world. Wren is the cosseted daughter of two people who stand high in Anchorage. As Reeve points out, it's quite new for Wren to have to even consider whether to trust those around her.

So that while the first two books were precisely about kicking children into the world to cope as best they can, this third book is much more recursive because the child has been brought up to look towards home for her goals. The trajectory of the adventure changes because the possibilities for the child have changed.

Interesting I think.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the things that struck me about the first book in this series was how much more graphic the violence in it was compared to (for example) Nix's "Abhorsen" trilogy, or Pullman's "Dark Materials". I felt the same way about Stewart's "The Edge Chronicles": there's a lot of hacking and slashing right in front of the narrative camera. As books are increasingly competing against video games for attention, do you think this is a sign of things to come, or just two outliers on a rather broad bell curve?

Greg (gvwilson at third-bit dot com)

6:05 AM  
Blogger Farah said...

I didn't enjoy the first of the Garth Nix sequence enough to continue, and you don't want to get me onto the Pullman sequence--I'm a dissenter from the general chorus and can get quite frothy on certain matters.

But to your point: I didn't find Reeve terribly violent, but I did notice that people do actually die. I think it is the "real death" that matters. At the end of Mortal Engines two characters with whom we have identified die. This isn't supposed to happen in what is, after all, a modern Biggles book.

In Predator's Gold Hester behaves despicably for reasons that make sense to teenagers--spite, jealousy, desire.

(spoiler coming)

In Infernal Devices Hester will decide to walk away from her family. While Mothers do this in the back story of children's fiction, I can't think of one where it happens towards the end of the book.

None of which anwers your question. Conor Costick's Epic might be the better test case. In that book death is always of an avatar, but even there, death in the game is economic death in the world and it's made very clear that this can lead to real death from poverty.

11:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have always been a great fan of phillip reeves books and i am looking forward to his next book

4:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my opinion there is a definite increase in the level of graphic violence in young adult literature. One Irish book stunned me by begining with a raid on a house in which a girl's mother was shot before her eyes and we had images of her chest disintegrating and white teeth lying in red blood to look at. There has always been violence in the genre but previously it was 'off camera' - for example Alan Garner's Red Shift is extremely brutal but you sometimes have to reread the dialogue to realise it. Death is an important topic to children from age 5 onwards, too important to splash blood around and ignore the pyschological issues. In that regard I think current trends are not a sign of progress in writing, not a growing up, but a sign that writers are leaving the internal world of their characters for the external world of the camera.

2:32 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I find Reeve's books very "truthful" in their use of violence. He doesn't shy away from it or leave it off stage and the level of violence certainly fits in the world he has created.

I look forward to Infernal Devices.


6:35 PM  

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