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A Web of Air

Review

A Web of Air

After narrowly escaping London with her life, Fever Crumb has enjoyed two years of relative peace and quiet travelling with Persimmon’s Electric Lyceum, a barge theater. She spends her days caring for the orphans Ruan and Fern and her nights lighting the theater’s plays with an ancient technology: electricity. But when the troupe makes a stop in the city of Mayda, Fever’s past begins to catch up with her. Its funicular buildings, which travel up and down the cratered city on rails, spark the memories of Auric Godshawk implanted in her brain. Arlo Thursday, the mysterious recluse working on a flying machine, seems to have attracted the intrigue and violence Fever thought she had left behind. Still struggling to make sense of a world that does not adhere to the rationality she was taught as part of the Order of Engineers, Fever discovers that there is nothing more dangerous than an idea that challenges the structures of power.

"Reeve’s work offers a brave and increasingly nuanced exploration of the consequences of ideology and technology."
A WEB OF AIR is the second book in Phillip Reeve’s Fever Crumb series, set in a post-apocalyptic world where superstition and science fight for supremacy. Also the author of the Mortal Engines Quartet, in which tiered traction cities roll the earth and devour each other for resources, Reeve explores the origins of the conflicts and characters that set the great city rolling. The series works both as a companion to Mortal Engines and as a stand-alone adventure for those discovering Reeve’s work for the first time.
 
I love the subtlety and craft Reeve has brought to Fever Crumb. Instead of splitting the narrative among multiple characters as he did with the Quartet, FEVER CRUMB and its companion, A WEB OF AIR, has a unity in its action and narrative. It’s as if he has moved from the external descriptions of his characters and their actions to revealing the internal experience of how they think and feel. Fever is an outsider, suspended between her training to rationally observe and her instinctive emotional reactions. As such, she makes the perfect window to Reeve’s world, where readers also stand aside as both detached observers and emotional participants. At times, her observations even echo questions readers may have themselves, such as her response to the revelation that Quercus, London’s dictatorial mayor, plans to make the city roll.
 
For Fever, flight is more rational than expending the fuel and resources to move whole settlements, and she loves the scientific challenge it offers purely for the knowledge itself. But as she works with Arlo, she finds there are people deeply invested in burying their work. Not just technoclasts, or machine breakers, who “believed that all machinery was evil and that the Downsizing had been the gods’ way of punishing the Ancients for polluting the world with their technology,” but even her fellow engineers who fear that Arlo’s work will undercut their own inventions and political power.
 
For Fever, science is about sharing ideas, uncovering flaws, and making new discoveries. But the conclusion of A WEB OF AIR puts Fever in a position where she must either recant her discoveries or sacrifice the life of someone she loves. Equally as uncertain is the ends to scientific knowledge itself, as it’s clear that the world in which Fever and Arlo live was destroyed by the technologies of the Ancients, which almost certainly included warfare and nuclear disaster. Or the plan to set London rolling, which Arlo regards as a kind of cult.
 
We do not know the outcome of our actions. Ideas, as Vishniak says, are like viruses, not just in their ability to infect, but also as they mutate into strange new forms. Biologists will tell you that much of our DNA contains viral insertions, no longer a disease but indistinguishable from the host itself. Amidst a literature that too often explores conflict in terms of good vs. evil, or us vs. them, Reeve’s work offers a brave and increasingly nuanced exploration of the consequences of ideology and technology. I can’t wait to see where he takes it next.
 

Reviewed by Sarah A. Wood on November 21, 2011

A Web of Air
by Philip Reeve

  • Publication Date: January 1, 2013
  • Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Science Fiction
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press
  • ISBN-10: 0545222176
  • ISBN-13: 9780545222174