by Reeve, Philip

When petty thief and railhead Zen Starling is hired to steal a small box from the Emperor's train, it soon becomes clear that the box may be the key to the secrets and danger that lurk within the Great Network of trains.

Zen Starling is a small-time thief who loves riding trains from planet to planet. Human life on Earth is ancient history, though from that time was born the now-mysterious technology that allows for rapid interstellar travel. So too came the godlike Guardians, beings of artificial intelligence that oversee the Network Empire. Reeve (Fever Crumb, 2010) carefully builds his world, balancing the plot's action with politics, history, and inventive technologies-such as living bio-buildings, Motorik androids, and sentient trains. Zen unexpectedly finds himself involved in an elaborate theft when he is recruited to steal an object from Emperor Noon's train by an enigmatic figure named Raven. When the heist hits a snag, the repercussions and ensuing dangers outstrip anything Zen imagined. Refreshingly, dark-skinned people populate this sf world, and the rise of thoughtful, intelligent machinery throws the definition of humanity into question; Reeve's conflation of religion and science may also stir debate. These meatier topics act as counterpoints to Zen's exciting exploits, all of which come together at the threshold of a new universe and fresh beginning. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Starlight Express meets Trainspotting-as run through Reeve's fertile imagination. Imagine: a world where solar systems are connected by mysterious train tracks. Onboard, you can rocket light-years in an instant, planet to planet, although some are mined-out wastelands and all are controlled by corporate families now that the Guardians-godlike Old Earth artificial intelligence-stay in the Datasea. Petty thief Zen Starling doesn't think much of Guardians or corporate families; he does what he needs to to support his family. But when Raven, a strange pale man in a world where shades of brown are the norm for humanity, recruits him, Zen (with Motorik companion Nova, upgraded into an individual) finds himself impersonating a member of the Emperor's family, stealing an ancient treasure, and possibly inciting world war. Reeve's writing never flags, with moments of pathos and magic seamlessly interwoven. Dozens of characters collide-the sentient trains; the M otorik; the Emperor's daughter Threnody and her boring but stalwart betrothed; Hive Monks; the Railforce agent who has tracked Raven across lifetimes-each one nearly as fascinating as the world Reeve has created (don't miss the glossary at the end). As he did with the Mortal Engines series, Reeve has crafted something at once weirdly familiar and marvelously original. Thank the stars there's at least one sequel planned already. (Science fiction. 12 & up) Copyright Kirkus 2016 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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