book reviews by Althea

Railhead = Philip Reeve ***

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Railhead by Philip Reeve
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cyberpunk-ish YA adventure, with an immediately-appealing, immersive writing style.

Zen Starling makes his way by petty thievery. He lives with his older sister and his mother, who appears to be a paranoid schizophrenic. Throughout his childhood, she’s dragged them from one place
to the next, never settling down, insisting that they’re being pursued by shadowy enemies. But as the adage says, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. And that’s what Zen learns, when after stealing a necklace one day, he finds himself pursued by a high-tech drone. After also encountering a mysterious girl, and finding his favorite pawnbroker attacked, Zen realizes that he may be in a heap of trouble.

The initial set-up here reminded me a lot of ‘The Ice Owl’ by Carolyn Ives Gilman. (…).

The primary ‘gimmick’ here is that easy, casual travel between worlds has been made possible by a network of trans-dimensional trains. No one really knows how they work, and the network’s origin is shrouded in mystery – but they’re a part of daily life that is taken for granted. So Zen can steal a necklace on one world, hop a train, and be back for dinner in another galaxy on time.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable book, but I did have a few issues with it, some more major than others.

On the very minor end – the character of Zen, the way he’s written, feels 12 or 13. When, later in the story, he’s expected to impersonate a college student and therefore must be at least 17, I found it very jarring.

I think the story as a whole would’ve been improved with less “Quest for the MacGuffin.”

On a more significant level, there is a point in the story where Zen does something really, truly horrific. (view spoiler) Yes, he’s kinda-sorta tricked into it, but his minor feelings of remorse weren’t enough for me to continue seeing him as a sympathetic character, which the author clearly expected me to. If you’re a good person at all, and you end up doing that level of a serious thing, you’re going to be EFFED UP FOR LIFE. But Zen’s more like, “Oh damn, that went rather badly. Oh well.” For me to buy that, he’d’ve had to have been portrayed as a more calloused, hardened killer to start with – which he wasn’t.

In addition, I felt there was a major plot hole: (view spoiler)

Last issue – big ol’ setup-for-the-sequel ending.

But, I’d gladly read the sequel – or other books by Reeve.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Capstone for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own. (hide spoiler)]

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