PREDATOR'S GOLD is the second book in the Hungry City Chronicles, an action-packed series set in a "city-eat-city" world. Philip Reeve introduced "Municipal Darwinism" in his first book MORTAL ENGINES, in which traction cities roll about the earth looking for smaller, weaker cities to devour. He also introduced the series' protagonists: Hester, a scavenger who has lived her life largely outside the bounds of the enormous rolling cities, and Tom, an apprentice historian.
PREDATOR'S GOLD follows the continuing adventures of Hester and Tom, who have taken charge of the Jenny Haniver, an airship belonging to legendary aeronaut Anna Fang. They have spent the past few years traveling the "birdroads," taking on passengers and cargo to earn their living.
Their peace is short-lived when a new, radical wing of the Anti-Traction League (a rebel group dedicated to the idea that cities should become stationary again) tries to reclaim the airship for their own uses. Shot down and desperately in need of repairs, Hester and Tom land on the sparsely populated city of Anchorage, which is under the new leadership of Freya, a spoiled margravine whose parents died in an engineered plague. Freya, enamored of the tales of a lush, green paradise, as reported in the preposterous books of Prof. Pennyroyal, has directed her city towards the Dead Continent, across the uncharted ice of the arctic.
Things take a turn for the disastrous when Hester, jealous of Tom's affection for Anchorage and the beautiful, plump margravine, commits an act of betrayal that sets off an explosive series of events. Murder, intrigue and resurrection of the dead steer the book toward an exciting conclusion.
Those who enjoyed MORTAL ENGINES will not be disappointed. Having established "Municipal Darwinism" in his first book, Reeve is now free to explore and expand upon the idea. There is less violence in PREDATOR'S GOLD, but the book remains full of action and has several new imaginative twists. Among them are the "Lost Boys," a group of parasitic thieves who attach themselves to unsuspecting cities and plunder them in secret. Despite a name that suggests Peter Pan's Neverland, the Lost Boys and their greedy Uncle have more in common with Fagin's gang of boy thieves in Oliver Twist, and are ruled by manipulation and cruelty.
Also reappearing are the Resurrection Men, machines made using the bodies of the dead. While these horrifying machine men, and the fact that most cities are dependent upon poorly treated slaves, would suggest a moral agenda, one of the most fascinating aspects of the Hungry City Chronicles is that Reeve does not involve his main characters in politics or rebellion. Hester and Tom find themselves involved in their adventures accidentally, or because of personal reasons. Where most authors would be likely to be sympathetic toward the aims and ends of the Anti-Traction League, Reeve has instead created the militant Green Storm, who will stoop to terrorism to achieve their ends.
The Hungry City Chronicles contains a lot of moral ambiguity and offers some excellent chances to explore the pros and cons of technology, and societal structures. The ending of PREDATOR'S GOLD leaves some intriguing possibilities for the following book in the series, already titled INFERNAL MACHINES. It is set for release in the UK next spring. Sadly, those of us living on the Dead Continent will have to wait another year before we find out what happens next.
Reviewed by Sarah A. Wood on October 18, 2011