Black Light Express

This is my cat, Nova, who shares a name with one of the series’ protagonists. That is all this picture has to do with this book.

Black Light Express by Philip Reeve
336 pages
Switch Press (Capstone) 2016
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Re-readability: With all of the galaxy’s unfolding secrets, this series will be fascinating to revisit.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed by Pete

Black Light Express is the sequel to Philip Reeve’s Railhead, and it is both refreshingly different and continuous from the first book.

Reeve’s Railhead trilogy (the third book is expected next year) is set in a future universe in which humans have colonized hundreds of planets and travel from world to world in AI-controlled trains that drive through portals. Several AI beings known as “Guardians” watch over humans and occasionally interfere with human ongoings—they are even known to appear as “interfaces” from time to time.

The series follows Zen Starling, a thief who finds himself caught up in a world of political mayhem, and the human-like robot (or Motorik) Nova. Black Light Express also features Threnody Noon, a young woman whose family has a long political dynasty, and Chandni Hansa, who was recently released from “freezer prison,” where criminals are kept in a state of sleep for decades at a time.

Like its predecessor, Black Light Express is a high-speed adventure. Its scenes are short, intense, and to-the-point. There wasn’t a boring moment, and Reeve does an excellent job, as always, of bringing the struggles of several characters together to create a tightly plotted story.

I was apprehensive about this sequel, mainly because the first book felt so complete. I enjoyed its mysterious ending. But Reeve is a master-class worldbuilder, and he manages to expand the galaxy of the first book without letting things get out of control. By the end of Black Light Express, I was confident in his ability to continue unveiling the secrets of this universe while giving his characters a final adventure—assuming that the third book is the last.

The only shortcoming of the book is that I wanted a bit more time with the four protagonists. Each of them is dealing with a new struggle in this book, and there is so little time to dig deep into their conflicts. I think the book’s characters suffered from the 300-page constraint. Another hundred pages may have given the cast the breathing room they needed.

Philip Reeve has been one of my favorite authors since I read his Mortal Engines Quartet as a teenager. It’s a series I’ve reread many times, and I’ve always wished he would revisit it. The Railhead series, though, has a similar adventurous spirit, and characters just as memorable. For fans of Mortal Engines, sci-fi, or adventure, both books in this series are must-reads.

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