Railhead by Philip Reeve

Railhead is a very well written and intriguing YA themed science fiction tale. Although the appearance and description may seem like steampunk, this is very grounded in a cyberpunkish sci fi setting featuring androids, a sentient cybernet, and interstellar travel. Several twists and turns take the plot in places not expected and the pace is brisk.

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Story: Zen is a petty thief surviving on the fringes of a futuristic society advanced by trains with the capability of travelling to different worlds. Society is watched over by a benevolent AI structure, gifter of the Star gate travel and the sentient trains. When Zen becomes embroiled with a strange rebel who seemingly is everywhere and nowhere, he will uncover a web of lies that could undo everything upon which society is built.

The breadth of imagination is quite fantastic – from bugs who come together to form a ‘human’ in order to communicate and trains/androids with interesting personalities. Zen comes into contact with many people as he bounces from disaster to disaster. Always a pawn, his actions start small but soon his decisions have some have horrifying consequences with which he has to live. All the while, there is the mystery of his mentally deranged mother and tough-as-nails older sister.

I greatly enjoyed Railhead but still wish Reeve knew how to write female characters. Perhaps this is a pet peeve, but as with the Larklight series, it gets tiring when the women exist solely to cause the male characters confusion, annoyance, or frustration. In Railhead, once again the female characters’ motivations are purely selfish and shallow while the guys are all working on big-picture objectives to save the world.

In all, a good and surprising sci fi read with plenty of action to keep readers riveted. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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