The Great Network is an ancient web of routes and gates, where sentient trains can take you anywhere in the galaxy in the blink of an eye. Zen Starling is a nobody. A petty thief from the filthy streets of Thunder City who aimlessly rides the rails of the Network. So when the mysterious stranger Raven offers Zen a chance to escape the squalor of the city and live the rest of his days in luxury, Zen can’t believe his luck. All he has to do is steal one small box from the Emperor’s train with the help of Nova, an android girl. But the Great Network is a hazardous mess of twists and turns, and that little box just might bring everything in this galaxy — and the next — to the end of the line. The highly anticipated novel from Carnegie-medal-winning author Philip Reeve, Railhead is a fast, immersive, and heart-pounding ride perfect for any sci-fi fan. Step aboard — the universe is waiting.
“You step aboard a train, and the train goes through a K-gate, and you step off on another planet, where the sun that was shining on you a moment ago is now just one of those tiny stars in the sky. It might take ten thousand years to travel that far by spaceship, but a K-train makes the jump in seconds.”
Railhead by Philip Reeve is an up and coming masterpiece that is due to be released April of this year. Set in the future, this novel follows Zen Starling. A common thief just spending his days lifting whatever he can for his family and blending in with the dirty crowds of his home world the Cleave, Zen is about as common as they get. Or so he thought. After a simple theft gone wrong, Zen finds himself propositioned by an eerily plain looking man who calls himself Raven. His task is simple: steal a tiny little box off the emperors train. Sounds easy right? That is exactly what Zen thought.
The world that Zen lives in is full of different planets all connected through a series of railways. Tracks that lead to gateways known as K-gates do the unthinkable, they allow trains to travel light years in seconds by hopping from one K-gate to another. No one knows the science behind how it works but Zen, known as a Railhead, and others like him would be content just sitting on trains all day watching the changes in scenery.
The family that controls the Grand Station, the main hub of all the railways, holds the money and the power. The Emperor has something that Raven wants, and Zen is the only person that can get it for him. The thing about stealing is… you should probably know what you are taking and who you are giving it to. This book follows Zen and his android companion Nova through his choices, their consequences and the chain of events that is put into motion as a result of his actions.
“Only trains can ride the K-bahn: the old, wise trains of the Empire, barracuda-beautiful, dreaming their dreams of speed and distance as they race from world to world.”
The world building in the book is insane. The visual descriptions provided put you in a place where droids hover overhead, air taxis clutter the skies and technology has surpassed the human race. One wholly original idea this book provides is the characterization of trains as having emotions, making their own decisions and having unique personalities. They hold a position of almost reverence to those who have fallen in love with the railways and the unlimited possibilities they represent.
I just can’t explain how much I really enjoyed this book. It took me a few chapters to really get into it but once I did I couldn’t put it down. This book would be great for teens and young adults. It is clean, imaginative and enchanting.
Disclaimer: I was given an advanced reader copy in exchange for a honest review. A big thank you to Philip Reeve, Capstone and Switch Press.