Mortal Engines


Philip Reeve

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Mortal Engines can help.

Mortal Engines Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Philip Reeve

Philip Reeve was born in Brighton, England. He studied illustration at Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology and Brighton Polytechnic, contributing to a comic strip and occasionally doing sketch comedy. His first books were for children, and he worked as both a writer and an illustrator. In 2001, his first young adult novel, Mortal Engines, became his best-known work, spawning three sequels as well as a prequel trilogy. In addition to books set in the Mortal Engines universe, Reeve has written the Larklight trilogy, the Railhead series, and several standalone novels for children and young adults. His works drew new attention in 2018, with the release of a film version of Mortal Engines.
Get the entire Mortal Engines LitChart as a printable PDF.
Mortal Engines PDF

Historical Context of Mortal Engines

Mortal Engines is a steampunk novel, meaning that while it includes futuristic technology, it also takes strong inspiration from the 19th century (when steam powered much of the technology). In particular, this was the time period when the British Empire expanded, violently taking land and resources from other parts of the world in a process called colonialism (which is similar to how the fictional Traction City of London devours smaller cities in the book). The concept of “Municipal Darwinism” is a parody of Social Darwinism, a similar real-life concept that used scientific language (drawing from Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theories) to hide darker ideas and was essentially a form of eugenics (the idea that some races are superior to others).

Other Books Related to Mortal Engines

Mortal Engines—particularly its setting—takes inspiration from the science fiction novels of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Jules Verne (Around the World in 80 Days) and H.G. Wells (The War of the Worlds). Mortal Engines was published in the middle of a boom in the young adult fantasy genre, with the first Redwall, Harry Potter, and His Dark Materials books coming before it, and with the Twilight and Hunger Games series starting shortly after it.
Key Facts about Mortal Engines
  • Full Title: Mortal Engines
  • When Written: c. 2000
  • Where Written: Dartmoor, England
  • When Published: 2001
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Young Adult Fantasy, Steampunk
  • Setting: London, several centuries in the future
  • Climax: The super-weapon MEDUSA blows up London.
  • Antagonist: Thaddeus Valentine and Magnus Crome
  • Point of View: Third Person Omniscient

Extra Credit for Mortal Engines

What’s in a Name. Philip Reeve has said he enjoys naming characters and places. Some, like Tom Natsworthy, have personal significance (“Natsworthy” is a place near where Reeve lives), while others like Hester Shaw just “sound right.”

A MEDUSA-Sized Box Office Bomb. By some estimates, the film version of Mortal Engines is one of the top five least-profitable movies of all time.