Friday, 4 May 2018

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 4th May 2018 - "Station Zero (RailHead Book 3) by Philip Reeve and Ian McQue (OUP / Oxford Children's Books)

Our Chapter Book of the Week this week. Alas, all good things must come to an end and we've reached Station Zero after a fantastic sci-fi journey...
For years it has felt like YA has swiftly established such a strong foothold in the Sci Fi / Fantasy genre, that us weary old bookworms are beginning to wonder why such books are even classed as "YA" when they're such belting reads for 'grown ups' too.

That's not to say that the Young Adult label means anything less than amazing quality, captivating writing and intense storylines. But our Chapter Book of the Week this week rounds off a series that feels like the sort of hard-fi I've been longing to dig my teeth into for years, regardless of its intended target audience.

"Rail Head" - Philip Reeve's first book in this brilliant trilogy swiftly set up a bookworld that was breathtakingly original, utterly compelling and gloriously cinematic. The story of a grubby rail-riding thief called Zen Starling, and his transition through "Black Light Express" into an antihero was full of incredible characters and settings, feeling like the sort of Gallic sci fi from the likes of Pierre Boulle, Stefan Wul or even movie stuff by folk like Luc Besson or Jeunet et Caro.

As we reach the third book (and please forgive me for minor spoilers in this review), Zen Starling is no longer a grubby oik stealing to stay alive. He's rich beyond his wildest dreams, a silent partner in a galaxy-spanning business empire and far far detached from his previous life. And, alas, love.

Nova, Zen's robotic Motorlik paramour was lost in the previous adventure - but when Zen receives a strange comm signal containing galactic coordinates and a cryptic message, he knows it's from Nova and must once again revert to his previous subversive lifestyle in order to track down the source of the message, and perhaps be reunited with Nova after all.

Needless to say, it would be a fairly short and boring book if there weren't a zillion other threads woven into a story that again erupts from the page at such a frenetic pace that it easily matches the space-spanning locomotives that have made this series famous. Characters in their own right, these vast engines like the Damask Rose are scintillating beings both there to aid and dissuade Zen from his quest.

I literally inhaled this book as soon as it arrived, devouring it in a couple of sittings and I can honestly tell you that this has been one of the most enjoyable sci fi trilogies I've read in donkey's years. Reeve maintains an air of classy cleverness in his writing all the way through to the last delicious gulp (which I'm obviously not going to spoil for you). I loved the fact that there were some great nods to popular culture, seemingly woven into something set far into the future but offering the book more grounded coolness than other cold and clinical sci fi novels never quite manage to achieve (Spoiler: "Zen, My Zen!" just completely slayed me!)

The huge galaxy-wide conspiracy still bubbles away in the background, insinuating itself into Zen's quest to remind us that this isn't just a love story, there's far more at stake, perhaps the very fabric of the K-Gate Network itself and the zillions of beings who rely on being in touch. There are so many allegories to what's happening in the world we know (not least of all some knowing nods to the insidious nature of social media, very timely indeed).

I would be extremely surprised NOT to see this snapped up for a movie treatment much in the same way "Immortal Engines" just has (in fact as I've said in previous reviews, the thought of Peter Jackson and WETA Workshops being let loose in the Railhead universe is just too durned cool to imagine).

So it's with a slightly sorrow-filled heart that I bid farewell to Zen and his adventures, but never say never...there's still such massive scope here for more amazing stuff set in the same universe that you just never know what might happen.

Utterly mesmerisingly fantastic.

"Station Zero (Railhead Book 3)" by Philip Reeve, with cover and interior art by Ian McQue, is out now, published by Oxford University Press / Oxford Children's Books (kindly supplied for review).