Railhead by Philip Reeve

Railhead by Philip ReeveRailhead by Philip Reeve
Published by Capstone on April 1st 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Pages: 352
Buy on Amazon

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.

“Aren’t you curious? Don’t you want to know what’s beyond that gate?”

This is a book for the curious. This is for those readers who get excited by possibility. If you like the idea of a great, wild universe spread out before you, full of mysteries and secrets, then I highly recommend you step into this world.

Reeve has created one of the richest, most imaginative worlds I have ever read about. It’s set many centuries into our future, when Old Earth has been left behind and a great network of mysterious train tracks run through the universe. Let one take you where you want to go, where you’ve never been, or even to places you never knew existed.

“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’s a compelling heist, set to the backdrop of this complex web of science, mystery, droids and emperors, all of which make up the future of space civilization. To be honest, it took my breath away. I read this book in wide-eyed wonderment from the very first pages to the ending. Words and imagery collide to make the impossible seem so real.
It’s a fast-paced, constantly-moving journey of excitement, as Zen Starling – a street rat from Thunder City – is given the opportunity to play a part, infiltrate the Emperor’s train, hang out with the aristocrats and, ultimately, steal an old, mysterious box for the equally mysterious Raven.
Yes, yes, it is all of that. It’s pretending and nearly dying and uncovering secrets. It’s runaway trains and betrayals and weird creatures called Hive Monks:

“He was a Hive Monk, a colony of big brown beetles clinging to a roughly human-shaped armature.”

BUT this book is so much richer than all of that. Every word counts. Questions arise about authority and the relationship between power and knowledge (how those in power have the ability to define knowledge and truth). Reeve’s droids beg the question of what it means to be human. Are sentient droids really anything other than people made from different materials?

“I am human,” she said. “I have a processor for a brain instead of a lump of meat, and my body is made of different substances, but I have feelings and dreams and things, like humans do.”

It’s also a really diverse novel. Most of the characters, including Zen, are described as “brown” or “dark-skinned” with white people being a minority. Which actually makes a lot more sense than most novels, given that white people are only about 15% of today’s population and that is estimated to drop below 10% in the next fifty years.
Not only that, but there is diverse sexuality with men married to men and women married to women. And the genderless droids make room for discussion about the differences between men and women – how much difference really exists beyond the way the world sees you?
It’s such a great story, both interesting in concept, and heart-pounding. I loved how there were no simple villains and the “bad guy” is not all he seems. He has his own back story that shapes him into more than a one-dimensional character with a mindless agenda. And Zen Starling is not a typical hero either. He does some awful things in order to survive and he is allowed to make mistakes and be selfish.
In short: This is a clever sci-fi novel that makes space seem utterly magical.
Doors to other worlds, ancient civilizations, and a whole universe of possibility. The ending closes the door on this chapter, but it’s left in a perfect position to open another one. I get goosebumps just thinking about where that might take us…

“He was going to miss everything. But he guessed that was how everybody always felt. Everyone was losing things, leaving things behind, clinging to old memories as they rushed into the future. Everyone was a passenger on a runaway train.”

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star


  1. Hi Emily! I just want to tell you that I am a huge, huge fan of your reviews. The way you articulate your thoughts – it’s a gift.
    The book sounds interesting. I’ll check it out after my exams!:)

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