Review of Railhead

Review By Ty Black


When small-time thief Zen Starling finds himself being pursued by a drone, he thinks it was sent by the owner of the necklace he just stole. However, soon Zen’s getting pursued by an entire trainload of soldiers which no necklace vendor could have sent for him, and he finds himself caught up in a high-stakes game of interplanetary politics.

While Philip Reeve is known as a children’s author, and Railhead is being marketed as YA, it’s engaging enough for an adult to read, too. It’s also a book so unique it’s hard to classify: It’s a kind of space-opera-cum-science-fantasy with humans, god-like artificial intelligences, androids, and sentient piles of bugs all living together on a landscape defined by an interstellar railroad system powered by sentient locomotives (at least one of which is criminally insane), and it’s got a rare kind of out-of-left-field creative spark.

The one thing I found that felt slightly off was that I didn’t connect well with the protagonist, Zen Starling. There were many supporting characters with enough depth that I felt a lot of sympathy for them, from humans to robots to sentient locomotives to piles of bugs. Despite that, Zen Starling still struck me as shallow, and it made the book difficult to get into for the first few chapters, before we got to know the others. Still, Railhead’s worth a read, and I give it four out of five stars.

Philip Reeve is an author from Brighton, England. His novel Mortal Engines won the Smarties Gold Award, the Blue Peter Book of the Year Award and the Blue Peter ‘Book I Couldn’t Put Down’ Award. His novel A Darkling Plain won both the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and his novel Here Lies Arthur won the Carnegie Medal 2008.

353 pp. Capstone. $16.95

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