Railhead is a futuristic, science-fiction epic by award winning novelist Phillip Reeve, who has already created a growing readership of young people and adults prepared to join him in his world of space, aliens and machines. His world is very imaginative, for those who are a bit of a rebel at heart and dream of the tomorrow.
The main character in Railhead is a petty thief by the name of Zen Starling, who enjoys nothing more than riding the sentient trains, all with personalities and attitudes, that take him across the vast expanse of space. This allows him to see and visit the different worlds that exist between K-gates, as he uses his talents to support his family.
Zen is engaged to steal a small box by an enigmatic character with the promise of riches. Set in the distant future where humans have left Earth and are living on far-flung planets, interplanetary travel takes place by means of these special sentient trains who go through the K-gates from planet to planet. The network of planets or worlds are shared with a wide range of strange life forms that include intelligent machines, humanoids known as "Motorik," and other imaginary beings.
One interesting species are bugs that can organise themselves into a conscious group and speak, known as “Hive Monks.” They have their own aspirations, and reasons for wanting to travel through the K-gates. There are also the Guardians who have to maintain peace through the appointment of the governing families, and control everything and everyone through the Datasea.
For Zen, this is all a journey of danger and of self-discovery, maturity and of finding love - one which challenges his own view of who he is and what he stands for. In this rich, vividly described tale, Reeve poses questions for us to consider - for example, humanoid development, machines taking the place of humans in the workplace and how we treat the other species that live with us on this planet, not to mention the have and the have-nots.
Reeve manages to create, using descriptive and detailed imagery, new worlds and beings; and he also makes us look at familiar worlds and beings in new ways - strange but believable.
Railhead is a very enjoyable read which I could not put down once I’d started it. The plot is thankfully not predictable and with its many twist keeps you engaged right to the end. Even if you would not consider yourself a Railhead - that is someone who loves trains and the joy of travelling on them - you will enjoy reading this book. This was my first Philip Reeve book having met him recently in Leicester, where I had the pleasure of hearing him read segments from the book. I was compelled to give it a try and I was not disappointed.
About the reviewer
Sandra Pollock loves fiction, fantasy and poetry and is taking an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester.