What the Judges say:
‘Engaging and fast-paced with clever use of humour. The book explores what it is to be human with some harsh criticisms of society in subtle ways’ – Judging panel
What We Say:
Often reading the Carnegie shortlist can be a challenge – the best sort of challenge – but one that requires a degree of stamina nonetheless. I’ve just finished reading Wolf Hollow and The Smell of Other People’s Houses – two outstanding works of fiction that immersed me in times and places that I’d never even thought to think about before. Reading Railhead hot on their heels was no less thought provoking – it certainly took me to a time and place I’d no conception of before – but when I tried to think of a word to describe it, rather than thinking in terms of immersion, it felt to me that the act of reading was that of taking flight. It was effortless and wondrous.
What a joy it was to be swept away on a tide of such imagination. The plot is propulsive; we join the action literally mid chase as we follow petty thief Zen Starling fleeing the scene of his latest crime. Before we know it we’re embroiled in an intrigue plot to steal a piece of art and wrestling with concepts of artificial intelligence, the power of corporations and the logistics of interstellar train travel.
The world building of Reeve’s ‘Great Network’ is linguistically beautiful and richly imaginative. The blending of different cultures and languages effortlessly creates a distinct and unique universe: Zen’s industrial hometown, the solid sounding Cleve, sits in contrast to the faded grandeur of the plaintively named Desdemor and a seemingly inexhaustible list of other worlds and places. Worlds are described in rich detail – I delighted in the idea of living in a bio-building grown from modified baobab dna which, if left to run to seed, might sprout ‘random balconies and bulbous little pointless extensions’. And oh the trains! ‘Barracuda beautiful’ and named with an appositeness akin to Anglo-Saxon kenning: the dangerous and unpredictable Thought Fox, the two lovers Wildfire and the Time of Gifts who ‘fill the fog-lit night with trainsong’ and the brusque but honourable Damask Rose who together create a cast of enchanting and believable characters all of their own.
There’s challenge in the text too. Reeve’s descriptions create a visual uneasiness about many of the characters: the Motorik Nova with her freckles, the mythical remoteness of the Guardians and the squirming unpleasantness of the Hive Monks. All raise questions about sentience and the rights of the individual which the reader must somehow reconcile. There’s really a lot going on underneath the fast paced and often gently humorous plot.
To surmise: a rip roaring read, that ticks all the Carnegie ‘s boxes: linguistically sophisticated with a thriller of a plot and a raft of convincing characters. I can’t believe that it’s taken me this long to read it. The sequel is already on order!
From the Horse’s Mouth:
You can hear more about the creation of Railhead and the enduring appeal of children’s books in Philip’s interview on the CKG shadowing site: http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/watch.php?id=2