Railhead by Philip Reeve
Reviewed by Lorene Forman
Railhead, a new, fast-moving YA cyberpunk adventure, had me hooked from the opening pages. Imagine a universe linked by sentient trains carrying goods and people swiftly and efficiently through hyperspace. Imagine a universe governed by A.I. guardians resembling a pantheon of ancient gods controlling the opulent and pampered puppet human leaders. Imagine an oppressed underclass of sentient androids who are replacing humans as the intergalactic cheap labor force. This is the setting of Railhead.
Zen Starling is a common thief who rides the rails between habitable worlds stealing and hawking goods. He is being followed by an android girl in a red raincoat. He is also being followed by the captain of Railforce who wishes to detain him for questioning. The android helps Zen to escape Railforce only to lead him to her boss, a mysterious man who commissions Zen to steal from the royal family’s train an object that could restructure the very fabric of the universe.
Full of high adventure and ethical conundrums, with nods to ancient Greek mythology, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, and Frank Herbert’s Dune, the rest of the story is a fast-paced, perfectly constructed romp through the universe that is impossible to set aside. For me and for the youths in our library’s Teen Book Club, Railhead provided a very refreshing departure from the more well-worked themes of recent YA literature.
Acclaimed British YA and children’s author, Philip Reeve, will soon release a second book entitled Black Light Express, which follows the further adventures of Zen Starling. Railhead, however, could easily be enjoyed as a stand-alone work. Marketed for young adults between the ages 14 and 18, Railhead would be equally suitable for a broad range of readers from advanced middle grades to adults. Railhead was originally released in the UK by Oxford University Press (October 2015) and re-published (April 2016) in the U.S. by Switch Press.
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