Friday, June 25, 2010

Review of Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve

Reeve, Philip. Fever Crumb. Scholastic, 2010.

Fever is bald, beautiful (but doesn't know it and wouldn't care if she did - too irrational), and logical. She lives in a post-apocalyptic London, a city which is still stationary, this being a prequel to the Hungry Cities series.

As an apprentice Engineer, she is hired by an Archaeologist to help him determine the origins and use of ancient technology - but really, Kit Solent knows that Fever in some way is the key to the knowledge held by the great Auric Godshawk, a Scriven lord, scientist, and inventor, now dead.

Fever appears human except for her bi-colored eyes - but she is soon hunted by the last Skinner of the city (who rid London of the Scriven years ago) and a whole mob of Londoners. Meanwhile, a whole country/army on wheels is massing outside London ready to roll in and take over. Fever, faced with all this, begins understandably to lose a bit of that dispassionate rationality that Engineers are famous for, and to allow herself to feel more like a 14-year-old girl.

This exciting steampunk novel stands alone; no knowledge of the Hungry Cities series is required, though it may well lead readers to those wonderful books. As with all Reeve's books, there is plenty of action in the form of riots, romances, strange and terrible technology, battles, and more. There is also a Dickensian element, with a young mistreated orphan boy, Charley Swallow, being taken on as a helper by the obsessed, glint-eyed Skinner named Bagman. And this London, though much transformed by the ravages of time, is still recognizable by such place names as "Pickled Eel Circus." That this is the future is obvious by the way Internet terms and symbols like blog and @ have been transformed (there's a guy called @kinson).

Fever herself is a compelling character. She wants to be rational, but can't help feeling emotional, especially as she is hit by all sorts of bizarre experiences. Because Fever was brought up in a society of men with no kids or women around, she has no knowledge of politeness - she doesn't understand that though it may be irrational to thank a person who is just doing his job, it's still the polite thing to do. She is stiff and quaint at first - and although by the end, she has loosened a bit, she retains a marvelous sense of composure and stillness.

Readers of the Hungry Cities books will come across a few familiar characters here. For instance, we learn the origin of Grike and find out why he is a bit sweeter than your average Stalker. And of course, we discover how London gets up off the ground and becomes mobile.

This is highly recommended for its strange and gritty atmospheric technology, its fast-moving plot, for the intriguing cast of eccentric characters, and most of all for Fever, its bald heroine. Grades 6 and up.

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