Book Review : Railhead by Philip Reeve

27262793Title : Railhead

Author : Philip Reeve

Publisher : Oxford University Press

Release date : October 1st, 2015

Rating : 4.8/5

Synopsis (from Goodreads) :

The Great Network is an ancient web of routes and gates, where sentient trains can take you anywhere in the galaxy in the blink of an eye. Zen Starling is a nobody. A petty thief from the filthy streets of Thunder City who aimlessly rides the rails of the Network. So when the mysterious stranger Raven offers Zen a chance to escape the squalor of the city and live the rest of his days in luxury, Zen can’t believe his luck. All he has to do is steal one small box from the Emperor’s train with the help of Nova, an android girl. But the Great Network is a hazardous mess of twists and turns, and that little box just might bring everything in this galaxy — and the next — to the end of the line. The highly anticipated novel from Carnegie-medal-winning author Philip Reeve, Railhead is a fast, immersive, and heart-pounding ride perfect for any sci-fi fan. Step aboard — the universe is waiting.

Review :

First of all, THANK YOU to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with the eBook of this science fiction novel! However, I would like to assure everyone that this doesn’t influence my review.

Railhead blew my mind away! It never felt slow and the writing is riveting!

As soon as I began reading, I was captivated. The book starts off fast paced and immediately excites the reader. I just knew I’d love it. It’s action-packed and entertaining; the style of writing captivates the attention, and it’s really fitting for a world always on the move. When I read, I’m usually bothered at incomplete sentences that lack a subject or a verb, which strike me more like a lazy move than an actual addition to the reading experience. But in Railhead, those sentences fall nicely on the lips. It’s like our attention is guided to all the right places. That’s it, I found the word: the writing is immersive.

For such a good writing style, I did find one flaw. It seemed to me like Reeve skimmed too quickly over big, deep emotions such as shock, sadness, and even awe. Like this grand revelation which I thought would be defining, in the plotline or at least in Zen’s life, but it wasn’t written as such. It was almost dismissed as something that would only be useful for his mission, and not after. The importance of the job isn’t quite well conveyed either. Sure, Zen realizes it’s big, but the way the author goes through his “explanations” doesn’t impress anyone. I felt like I should’ve been awed and wowed by the grandness of the danger, but I wasn’t.

For the first time, he started to think that the plan might work. (p. 72)

Hum. I didn’t get an impression that it wouldn’t, despite the fact that it was written that it could go very wrong. See what I’m saying?

In spite of this lack of depth, I really liked all the characters. From the minors to the majors, they all do at least one thing that made me like them, instead of just being indifferent. They aren’t Game of Thrones-complex, but feel real and common. They aren’t special in any way; they have issues, are sometimes selfish, indecisive. There’s really nothing to dislike and they’re not one-dimensional. My personal favorite would be Nova, who reminded me a bit of Ava in Ex Machina (it’s a movie). Some chapters are dedicated to other characters than Zen, the protagonist, and the plot lines intersect and come together so well. We alternate between Zen’s side and the law’s side, and there’s this ambiguity about whether Zen is doing the right thing or not. Since we see both sides of the coin, the reader is left torn between them, because, on one side, we have our hero Zen who goes through all this trouble to complete his mission, and on the other, we have righteous people who try to do good by the laws.

My biggest WOW of this book, though, would be the world Reeve created. It is HUGE. Zen’s world covers a gigantic part of our galaxy. There are K-trains, which are trains that can go from planet to planet through what they call K-gates. The Network, composed of nearly 1 000 gates, is like an enormous metro system. As we follow Zen, we go through different planets, all with their own characteristics. We visit a misty planet, a planet ruled by merchants, a beach planet, and so on. It gave me serious Star Wars and Star Trek feels. “Railhead” is a term similar to Potterhead, referring to fans of this way of transportation. Zen is a railhead, and he loves going on the trains to watch the worlds go by… The science part of this book is still a mystery to me; there are unanswered questions about how the K-gates were created or how the way of life must differ from planet to planet. But hey, I didn’t start this book to educate myself on relativity, wormholes and such, right? I’m willing to let this uncertainty pass, because I adore this futuristic world so much, I wish I could live there! I also noticed references to very actual and real concerns from our own world, like artificial intelligence (AI), technology and resources. That was a very nice touch.

As you may well have guessed it by now, I really loved this book. It’s an action-packed, well-written novel, in which the characters are all likable, and set in a wonderful world made of alien worlds and alien stars. Recommended for fans of scifi!

Picture sources : 1, 2

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