A Darkling Plain by Philip Reeve - Review

10 March 2023
Philip Reeve's "A Darkling Plain" is the fourth and final book in the Mortal Engines Quartet. This epic science fiction series takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where cities are giant machines that roam the Earth, devouring each other for resources. In "A Darkling Plain," the story continues to center around the characters of Tom and Hester whom we last read about in Infernal Devices

The novel explores the themes of redemption, sacrifice, and the cyclical nature of war. It is an exciting and emotional conclusion to the series that leaves readers satisfied and fulfilled.

Throughout the Mortal Engines Quartet, Tom and Hester have undergone significant character development. In "A Darkling Plain," their journey is brought to a satisfying conclusion. Tom has grown from a naive apprentice to a confident leader who is willing to make the tough decisions. Hester, who was once consumed by revenge, has learned to let go of her hatred and embrace forgiveness. Their relationship has also evolved, and their love for each other is tested as they face difficult choices. 

a darkling plain cover by ian mcque

The themes of redemption, sacrifice, and the cyclical nature of war are prevalent in "A Darkling Plain." Reeve explores the idea that even the most heinous acts can be redeemed, and that there is always hope for a better future. Sacrifice is another central theme, as characters are forced to make difficult choices to protect those they love. The cyclical nature of war is a recurring motif throughout the series, as the cities continually devour each other in a never-ending cycle. 

The Shrike plays a prominent role as a powerful and enigmatic character. The Shrike is a killing machine that is feared by many and has a reputation for being nearly indestructible. Throughout the Mortal Engines Quartet, The Shrike is presented as a formidable antagonist, but as the series progresses, his motivations and character arc become more complex.

Tying into the novel's themes, the title reflects literally the land in which the characters play out their stories:

The title "A Darkling Plain" is a reference to a line from Matthew Arnold's poem "Dover Beach." In the poem, Arnold reflects on the erosion of traditional values and the sense of uncertainty that pervades the modern world. The phrase "darkling plain" appears in the final stanza of the poem, where Arnold describes the world as a "darkling plain" swept with "confused alarms of struggle and flight."

The phrase "darkling plain" is a metaphor for the world in which the characters of "A Darkling Plain" inhabit, a desolate and war-torn landscape where survival is a daily struggle. The title captures the bleakness and uncertainty of this world, while also hinting at the possibility of hope and redemption.

Throughout the Mortal Engines Quartet, the characters are forced to confront their own mortality and the fragility of the world they inhabit. However, they also find moments of beauty and connection amidst the chaos. The title "A Darkling Plain" suggests that even in the midst of darkness and despair, there is still the possibility for redemption and renewal. The title reflects the central theme of the novel, which is the idea that even in the darkest of times, there is still hope for the future.

At the beginning of the series, The Shrike is presented as a ruthless killing machine that will stop at nothing to fulfill his mission. He is a feared and dangerous adversary that seems almost unstoppable. However, as the series progresses, The Shrike's character arc takes a surprising turn. It is revealed that The Shrike was once a man named Kit Solent who was transformed into a cyborg by a group of scientists. As a result, The Shrike's character becomes more nuanced, and readers are given insight into his motivations and inner turmoil.

 "A Darkling Plain" concludes the Mortal Engines Quartet in grand style. The novel brings the character arc of many of the characters to a satisfying end. The action-packed climax is both thrilling and emotional, and readers will find themselves on the edge of their seats as they read the final pages. particularly with a slight twist of an ending. 

The novel has received critical acclaim and has won several awards, including the 2006 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize and the 2007 Carnegie Medal. Book reviewers have praised the novel for its compelling characters, exciting plot, and thought-provoking themes. 

Philip Reeve himself has described "A Darkling Plain" as "the book that I always wanted to write," and has expressed his satisfaction with the conclusion of the series. 

In conclusion, "A Darkling Plain" is a fantastic novel that brings the Mortal Engines Quartet to a thrilling and emotionally satisfying conclusion. 


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About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

At The Astromech, you can expect to find a variety of articles, reviews, and analysis related to science fiction, including books, movies, TV, and games.
From exploring the latest news and theories to discussing the classics, I aim to provide entertaining and informative content for all fans of the genre.

Whether you are a die-hard Star Trek fan or simply curious about the world of science fiction, The Astromech has something for everyone. So, sit back, relax, and join me on this journey through the stars!
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