The Illustrated World of Mortal Engines by Philip ReeveThe Illustrated World of Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

The Illustrated World of Mortal Engines by Philip ReeveThe film adaptation of Mortal Engines may have been a disappointment, but at least its release led to more material from Philip Reeve — not only this book, but a series of short stories starring Anna Fang, and new reprints of the original MORTAL ENGINES quartet. So it all works out well!

The Illustrated World of Mortal Engines (2018) is a standard tie-in volume that comes with many a book franchise, in which the world of Mortal Engines is explored in more detail, complete with maps, time-lines, illustrations, profiles of characters, and other little tidbits that adds depth and flavour to the world-building.

Here the presentation is quite fun, as the worn, faux-stained pages suggest that it’s a “real” book that exists in the world of Mortal Engines, with a narrator that has a limited view of the people and places it explores. As such, there’s an amusing ignorance surrounding the ancient history of planet Earth (it’s mentioned that one city holds “all five of Shakespeare’s plays” and the purpose of Old Tech is a complete mystery) and many of the character profiles leave out pertinent details that are answered in the books.

As such, The Illustrated World of Mortal Engines makes a great companion piece to the Mortal Engines quartet and the Fever Crumb trilogy: some lingering questions from the books are answered here, while others are left for you to find in the books themselves (for instance, this says that the Sultana of Pulau Pinang was “peace-loving and murdered by an Anti-Tractionist assassin,” though if you’ve read Night Flights you’ll know that’s not the whole story by a long shot).

The volume is divided into five parts, entitled: London The First Traction City, History of the Traction Era, The Age of Traction Cities, Cities of the Great Hunting Ground and The Wider World, and we not only get a more in-depth understanding of familiar terms such as Municipal Darwinism, the Anti-Traction League and the Scriven (which form the backbone of the books), but also less important events such as the Zagwan Deluge, the Battle of the Three Dry Ships and the Sixty Minute War.

There’s also Philip Reeve’s particular brand of comedy, which ranges from the absurd (such as the city full of rude waiters ruled by a culinary dynasty whose status is determined by the height of their cylindrical white hats) to the extremely dark (the transformation of London into a Traction City is attributed to migrant workers who “presumably later found work in the construction sites of other cities, and travelled happily from city-womb to city-womb, pleased to be part of the transformation of the world.” Yeah… SURE they did).

There’s also an abundance of his usual wordplay and puns, such as a static city called Dunroamin’ or an undertier fixer called Fatburg Slim. His research also impressed me: for instance, when the book reached New Zealand (or Nuzealand) it turns out the country has been named Aotearoa (its Maori name), is filled with fortified pās, and has a sail-powered city that features two town halls called Upper and Lower Hutt. I can only assume this attention to cultural detail is replicated in all his entries.

Finally, illustrations are contributed by Ian McQue, David Wyatt, Philip Varbanov, Rob Turpin, Aedel Fakhrie, Amir Zand, Maxime PLASSE and Philip Reeve himself — the first two have also done cover-art for the series, and many of those feature here as well. They’re vibrant, detailed and fit beautifully with the harsh but beautiful post-apocalyptic world of Reeves’s imagination.

Ultimately The Illustrated World of Mortal Engines is a great introduction to this series, which you can read either before or after the books themselves. It adds depth and detail to the wonderful world-building of Mortal Engines, and reignited my enthusiasm for the series. Time for a re-read!

Oh, and also: there are war zebras. War zebras!!

Published in 2018. It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea. So begins Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines, the first book in his epic post-apocalyptic series of giant motorized cities on wheels. But how did the world end up like this? What led to the downfall of our civilization, and to the rise of the Traction Cities that roam the Great Hunting Ground to attack and devour each other? Now, for the first time, discover the untold future history of Traction. This lavishly illustrated book contains incredible tales of fearsome Zagwan warriors riding war-zebras into battle, daring air-traders flying the Bird-Roads in search of adventure, and the mysterious plague-ridden wasteland of the Dead Continent that was formerly known as ‘North America’. This definitive companion guide includes detailed maps, fascinating character profiles, and stunning colour illustrations from incredible artists, including Ian McQue, David Wyatt, Aedel Fakhrie, Maxime Plasse, Rob Turpin, Philip Varbano and Amir Zand. MORTAL ENGINES is soon to be a major motion picture.


  • Rebecca Fisher

    REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.