Released: May 15th 2012 Pages: 424
Publisher: Del Rey Source: Library
First Look: ***** This book has incredible cover art. It's unique, and eye-catching, and a little weird. I love it. It's some of my favorite cover art ever. I also loved the concept of a "sea" traveled by train, instead of by ship.
Setting: ***** First, we have to talk about the moles. In this book, the moles are gigantic. Whale-sized. Can we just take a moment to think about how utterly terrifying it would be to come upon a whale-sized mole? I believe my Boggart has just taken a new form. (I just had a thought. Are the moles just that big, or is it that the people are tiny? Hmm...)
Anyway, this book has one of the coolest settings I've had the pleasure of reading about in a long time. Not only is the concept awesome, but it's also marvelously imagined and described. I could see every detail in my mind. I felt like I was really there. I'm not sure I'd want to live there--it's a little too dystopic for that--but I'd sure love to visit it.
Characters: ***** Sham ap Soorap is a complex and likable protagonist. He's tough, and curious, and complex. He's hardened by the world he lives in, which is just another reflection of this book's spectacular worldbuilding. He has this old-fashioned adventure quality to him--he's not the archetypal ultra-heroic hero. He's more of that archetypal orphan, and, at least for me, the use of this familiar character basis made him easy to understand.
Other characters were well-developed as well. The Shroakes, Captain Naphi, the doctor...all of them were complex, and I could see them as real people.
Plot: ***** I love plots in dystopian books that don't involve starting a rebellion and bringing down the evil totalitarian regime. Why? Because they hardly exist, that's why. When other plots are used for this genre, they stand out, and in my experience, it tends to work well. So, yay for the unique plot.
The storyline was compelling--I was kept interested in Sham's journeys, and his desire to solve the mystery of the single rail. It was part high-seas adventure (except on rails), part quest, part survival story. And of course, the ubiquitous coming-of-age story. And I loved it.
Uniqueness: ***** I can't even begin to describe how different this book is. From everything. It mashes genres together and creates its own niche. It has a wholly unique and interesting concept, putting an incredibly cool spin on your typical high-seas adventure. (Train pirates, guys. TRAIN PIRATES.) The setting is completely fresh and original. And cool. Have I said it's cool? Because it is.
Writing: ***** The notable thing about this book's writing is that the word "and" is never used. Instead, the word is replaced by an ampersand (this thing: &). Initially, this is a little weird and takes a chapter or so to get used to. Eventually, though, we get an explanation for this, and it all makes sense.
I love the writing in this book. It feels authentic to Sham's voice, with the words he'd use and the feelings he'd want to convey. There was something raw and gritty about it that matched the rest of the tone of the book.
Likes: "Sham gaped. Wasn't it bad luck to see an angel? ... Should he look away now? How could he?" No, no, don't look away! DON'T BLINK! BLINK AND YOU'RE DEAD!
This has to be a reference. How can this not be a reference? Further proof: I don't have a direct quote, but I'm pretty sure the word "weeping" was used to describe the angels at one point.
Not-so-great: Um...yeah, I have nothing.
Overall: This book is seriously cool. The setting is incredible, and unique, and vivid. You have no idea how much I am in love with the worldbuilding. Sham ap Soorap is a fun, likable protagonist. The plot is compelling and engaging, and has a gritty, high-seas adventure quality to it. I highly recommend this book. Because TRAIN PIRATES.
Similar Books: It really reminds me of Ship Breaker and its companion, The Drowned Cities--both have a gritty dystopian feel to them. It also feels a little like Blood Red Road, and even The Knife of Never Letting Go. At times, it's a little weird, like The Marbury Lens.