Sunday, April 14, 2013

Fever fever

Philip Reeve is an author who can pretty much do no wrong for me, I've read all but one of his books owned by my library and they have all been superb. His books for teen readers were bleak, inventive (I mean, Municipal Darwinism!) dystopias before that became the "it" genre for young adults. His books for younger readers have a sly hilariousness that make them enjoyable for all but the most jaded reader.  Opting to listen to the last of the Fever Crumb novels (the prequels to the Predator Cities books), Scrivener's Moon, was a no brainer when I found it among the downloadables.  I just had to wait an astonishingly long time for it to show up in my inbox.

Somewhat at peace with what she learned about her grandfather, Auric Godshawk -- last of the Scriven who used to run London -- and the nano-technology that he placed in her body, Fever Crumb left the traveling theatrical company and returned to the city with her long lost mother, Wavey Godshawk. The age of the Scriven is over, and the age of the Engineer is rising, as Fever's stepfather, Dr. Crumb leads the effort to mobilize London -- to get it up on tank-like rolling treads and move out into the countryside.  London's first battle must be with those rising up in the North, but who knows who it will conquer after that?  Wavey has heard of a mysterious black pyramid somewhere in the North, and believes that she and Fever may find some important answers there. Despite the dangers, they set off on a perilous journey (accompanied by, in another Reeve-ian stroke, a freak show known as the Carnival of Knives).

Tragedy strikes, and Fever is taken captive but becomes close friends with a young woman whose visions have made her the oracle of the Northern tribes, Cluny Morvish. They find the black pyramid and discover its secrets and learn some other secrets of their own, but it's too late to stop the invasion by London (and the millennium-long rule of the Traction Cities).

Scrivener's Moon has it all -- battles, betrayals, revelations, and these lovely little references to the future   series, and clever references of our own present (and its technological detritus). It has a tender one-sided romance as Fever falls hard for Cluny. (Fever has kind of a fickle heart, as she fell equally hard for the young aviator, Arlo, in the second book, A Web of Air. Actually, I just think Fever is young and believes in the emotionless creed of the Engineers, so when human feelings strike, they overwhelm her.)  The "launching" and movement of London is literally felt, and there is a sense of the impending disaster in the future.  Although, satisfyingly, that disaster does not extend to Fever.

One of the reasons that I chose to listen to this one (even though I'm generally not a fan of downloadable audio) was the narrator, Sarah Coomes.  I listened to her read about three years ago and was impressed enough to put her on my list of favorites for that year.  As I began listening to Scrivener's Moon, I was really troubled by Coomes' tendency to draw out, exaggeratedly, her vowel sounds. It made for really hard listening at the beginning. Did she stop reading this way or did I just get used to it?  I'm not quite sure (and the book is gone from my computer, so I can't doublecheck).

In spite of this reading technique, Coomes has a good grasp on the novel's many characters.  Everyone has distinctive voices (although I must have missed the reference to London's mayor, Nicolas Quercus, hailing from Moscow) and she uses them consistently.  I loved Cluny's Northern inflections, the Cockney ambitions of Charley Swallow (future mayor), and the oddly compelling Borglum, leader of the traveling freak show. She also does an excellent job imitating the computer voices of the abandoned Stalkers inside that black pyramid. Coomes is very good as Fever, at a loss on so many human levels but disastrously buoyed by her confidence in technology.

This audiobook comes with credited original music (the composer of which I cannot remember) playing at the very beginning (and lasting a long time as the book began) and at the end.  Despite the fact that it hasn't stayed with me (all I remember is that it was there), I applaud publishers who commit to augment their audiobooks like this.

[The photograph of the pyramidion (or capstone) of the "black pyramid" of Amenemhet III in Dahshur (Egypt) was taken by Jon Bodsworth and was retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.]

Scrivener's Moon (Fever Crumb, Book 3) by Philip Reeve
Narrated by Sarah Coomes
Scholastic Audio, 2012.  11:00

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