BOOK REVIEW: “Railhead” by Philip Reeve

Title: Railhead
Author: Philip Reeve
Publication: April 1, 2016
Publisher: Switch Press
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 352



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.


**A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Science Fiction is NOT my forte, but Philip Reeve may have just made me a fan. “Railhead” found a unique way to make Science Fiction not so… science fiction. At least to me. The main problem I’ve always had with science fiction is that it is completely unbelievable to me. I don’t do well with things that could never happen. I don’t do well with fantasy either. Two genre’s I find it hard to get behind because my mind doesn’t wrap around the unbelievable. However, there are a few stories with things I would consider unrealistic that I love and Railhead may just be added to my list.

“Railhead” follows the story of Zen, a thief from the rougher side of the tracks. We aren’t in our current world. This is a world far past that of now. We have gates through the universe where people live on all different planets, each looking different than the last. Some have homes made of plants and others are abandoned after being completely mined out for all their resources. I gotta say that one surely leaves me wondering if we learn nothing from our bad ways. The world that author Philip Reeve has built for this story is one so intricately designed that I wonder how long he has been working on it. There has to be notebooks full of drawings and notes and explanations on what lies where and who lives there and what kind of atmosphere it is. The time that must have gone into this story in just conceptualizing the ideas should get props enough. I can barely come up with a typical boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, all ends well story. Let alone all these fantastic, visual details that create “Railhead”.

With that being said, the main issue I did have with this story was the details. At least in the beginning. There were so many weird, new words to remember and definitions and descriptions to try and memorize that I found myself frustrated in the early stages of reading this book. I wanted to understand what the words meant and what planet Zen was on or who was doing what. But the language was almost slightly different. The characters refer to “Old English” at times, which turns out to be words I actually understand. I almost wished there was more of a description or even a glossary at the beginning of the book, instead of the end (which is something I found after reading), to better understand the story in the beginning.

As I read on into the story I found the words making more sense and I would remember where they were or what a word meant. It made understanding what was happening easier. This also made the story far more enjoyable. I quickly found myself picking out favorite characters or characteristics of characters. I’m not sure if this was the point the author was trying to make, but I loved how the characters were all so different, from different backgrounds and makes (some were machines with human feelings, some were entities, some were actual humans), and yet they all came together to find a common ground and understanding even in a world where it may not have been accepted for them all to be friends. I found this to be a great lesson when we live in a world that is so torn apart a lot of the time by bullying and diversity. So kudos for Reeve there!

You not only have the learning curve of almost a new language when reading this book, but there is suspense for the main story line, lessons on the difference between right and wrong and how things can become so skewed. “Railhead” showed me that line where you think you are doing something for yourself, but end up doing something for the “right” reasons only to end up questioning if those were really the reasons you thought. It is a guessing game until the very end. I honestly could tell which way Zen was going to go in this story.

I also love the flow of this story. It is broken into multiple parts. Each part has a set point it is trying to make or a part of the story it wants to get across. It isn’t drawn out, but well timed and not rushed. Everything flowed smoothly, kept you interested with just enough filler to give details about characters, suspense on what is to come, and learning about each environment you found the characters in. My personal favorite was probably Flex. Love that character and how people are not always what you perceive initially. All in all this was a fantastic story, even with the difficulties I had understanding in the beginning. If I hadn’t struggled a bit there I may have given this book a five stars. But it is a very strong four, and if I could I would probably give it a half a star additional too. Looking forward to more science fiction from Reeve in the future. Way to make a believer out of me!

I highly encourage you to pick up a copy of your own! “Railhead” is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and in your local bookstore. I encourage you to add it to your To Reads list on Goodreads and leave feedback for the author when you are finished reading. You can also check out more about the author, Philip Reeve, on his website here!

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