A Darkling Plain

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A Darkling Plain
Darkling Plain.JPG
First edition cover
Author Philip Reeve
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series Mortal Engines Quartet
Genre Steampunk, Science fiction, Young adult novel
Published 2006 (Scholastic Press)
Media type Print (hardcover)
Pages 544 pages
ISBN 0-439-94997-1
OCLC 63186123
Preceded by Infernal Devices

A Darkling Plain is the fourth and final novel in the Mortal Engines Quartet series written by author Philip Reeve.

The novel won the 2006 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize[1][2] and the 2007 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Fiction.[3]


The book is set six months after Infernal Devices. Wren Natsworthy and her father Tom Natsworthy have taken to the skies in their airship, the Jenny Haniver. After the apparent death of the Stalker Fang at the end of Infernal Devices, General Naga has seized command of the Green Storm and has signed a peace treaty between the Green Storm and the Traktionstadtsgesellschaft, ushering in a new era of peace and trade. Whilst Wren is enjoying life as an aviator, Tom misses Hester, and has been informed by a doctor that his weak heart means he only has a few years left to live. The Lost Boy, Fishcake, is secretly repairing the Stalker Fang, coming to regard her as the mother he never had. Theo Ngoni has returned to Zagwa and rejoined his family.

Explanation of the novel's title[edit]

The title is derived from Matthew Arnold's poem Dover Beach. This excerpt of the poem appears at the beginning of the book:

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Matthew Arnold , Dover Beach (emphasis added)

This relates to the novel in several ways. The characters are indeed swept about, often against their will, by the "ignorant armies" of the Green Storm and Traktionstadtsgesellschaft, on the "darkling plain" of the Great Hunting Ground.

Reeve references his choice of title himself towards the end of the book when the character Nimrod Pennyroyal writes a book within a book titled Ignorant Armies.

The similarly titled, "As on a Darkling Plain", by Ben Bova in 1972 also takes its title from this poem.

Plot summary[edit]

Part One[edit]

Theo Ngoni, having returned to his family in Zagwa, foils an attempt to assassinate Oenone Zero, who has married General Naga and has taken the title of Lady Naga. Oenone suspects that the assassination attempt was organized by factions in the Green Storm still loyal to the Stalker Fang. Theo is made commander of an airship that will secretly deliver Lady Naga back home to Batmunkh Gompa. While flying across the Sahara Desert, one of Oenone's servants reveals herself as Cynthia Twite, a secret agent for the Stalker Fang first encountered in Infernal Devices. After murdering the pilot, Twite attempts to kill Lady Naga but is foiled by Theo. She escapes from the airship before a bomb she planted explodes. Theo and Oenone are assumed dead.

Meanwhile, Tom and Wren encounter a face from the past: Clytie Potts, a historian from London who Tom had assumed was killed when MEDUSA exploded. She goes by a different name and claims to have never met Tom, but he is unconvinced and follows her to the cities of the Traktionstadtsgesellschaft. Manchester has recently arrived and is encouraging the German cities to abandon the peace treaty and attack the Green Storm again. Here they also encounter Nimrod Pennyroyal, who assures them that nobody could have survived the destruction of London. A young German soldier named Wolf Kobold, however, claims to have seen Potts' airship flying east towards the ruins of London. He tells them of how he once crash-landed in London and witnessed strange activity. Wolf suspects there are survivors living in the ruins of London who are working on something secret. Tom and Wren agree to travel with him in his burrowing predator suburb Harrowbarrow to investigate.

Meanwhile, Hester Shaw and Shrike (called Grike in US editions), who finds himself unable to kill any humans due to memories unlocked by Oenone, have been travelling the Sahara for six months, where they have a chance encounter with Theo, who was taken captive by a desert town along with Oenone following the crash. Hester rescues Theo and they escape on board Hester and Shrike's sand-ship. Theo tells them that Oenone was purchased by a merchant called Napster Varley, and convinces the two to help him rescue her. They sell the sand-ship, buy an airship and travel north in search of Varley.

The Stalker Fang, who has been rebuilt by Fishcake, is demanding that he take back to Shan Guo so that she can activate ODIN. They steal a limpet from Brighton (which, after the events of Infernal Devices, is now ruled by warring gangs of Lost Boys) and travel east, eventually arriving at the volcano of Zhan Shan in Central Asia. Throughout their journey, the Stalker faces an internal battle between its warlike side and the remnants of Anna Fang, resulting in a split personality. Fishcake comes to love Anna and hate the Stalker Fang. Eventually Anna gains the upper hand, to Fishcake's delight. After meeting with Anna's former companion Sathya in a hermitage on Zhan Shan, they travel to Batmunkh Gompa to try to find Dr. Popjoy, the Engineer who resurrected her, and force him to remove the Stalker Fang personality permanently.

Meanwhile, Twite has returned to Tienjing and informed General Naga of Oenone's supposed death. The general despairs and Twite becomes his servant so that she can infiltrate his government and then topple it from within.

Tom, Wren and Wolf travel across the Green Storm's front line in Harrowbarrow. They are shocked by his violence when smashing through the line, but still take him in the Jenny Haniver to the ruins of London. There they make a startling discovery - survivors are indeed living amongst the ruins, including two people Tom knew from his life on London: Clytie Potts and Chudleigh Pomeroy, who was formerly Thaddeus Valentine's deputy in the Historian's Guild and is now the new mayor of London. They are welcomed into the community, albeit suspiciously, but Wren thinks the Londoners are hiding something from them.

Fishcake and Anna arrive at Popjoy's villa, but after killing his guards Anna reverts to her Stalker self, and the plan backfires as she makes Popjoy try and remove the Anna parts of her instead. When he tells her he cannot, she kills him and steals his airship to travel east to activate ODIN, accompanied by a miserable Fishcake.

In the ruins of London, Wren and Wolf discover that the Londoners are concealing a new city called "New London", built to float above the ground using the Ancients' magnetic levitation technology. Wolf escapes from London with this knowledge, intending to return and devour the new city with Harrowbarrow.

Part Two[edit]

Napster Varley arrives in Airhaven, which is floating above the Traktionstadtsgesellschaft, and makes cautious attempts to sell Oenone. Hester, Theo and Shrike arrive shortly afterwards and attempt to buy her back, but they do not have enough money. Hester then finds Pennyroyal hiding in Airhaven, in disgrace and debt after a newspaper exposed him as a fraud. She takes what remains of his money and heads to Varley's ship to buy Oenone back. Pennyroyal realises what she is doing and rounds up a group of troops from Manchester to try to get there first.

Hester attempts to cheat Varley, but is discovered and has to fight her way out. Varley is killed by his wife and she escapes with Oenone when Pennyroyal and his troops challenge them. A fight ensues, and in the confusion Hester and her party manage to escape on their airship with Oenone. Pennyroyal falls from Airhaven and is assumed killed, but instead lands in the rigging of Hester's airship and is begrudgingly taken on as a passenger. The five of them make it across no-man's land to a Green Storm airbase, where they are hailed as heroes. The airbase is soon attacked by the Traktionstadtsgesellschaft, however - at the urging of Manchester, the war has begun again. All of them manage to escape in an airship heading east except Theo, who turns back to recover a letter he had from Wren.

Meanwhile the Stalker Fang and Fishcake arrive in Erdene Tezh, her old home. She begins to assemble a powerful radio station to send a signal to ODIN.

Part Three[edit]

Theo survives the attack on the airfield and, as the letter from Wren says she intended to explore the ruins of London, he treks east across the plains to find her. He is welcomed into the ruins by the community there and reunited with Wren, but brings bad news that the war has started again. The development of New London is pushed faster, the Londoners eager to escape before the cities of the west arrive.

The Stalker Fang has activated ODIN, however, and turns it on the Traktionstadtsgesellschaft. Manchester and many other cities are destroyed, and the surviving cities flee west.

In Tienjing, news of Oenone's survival reaches General Naga. He realises Cynthia Twite had deceived him and confronts her. She is about to kill him when ODIN fires upon the city. Twite is killed instantly but Naga survives. He takes the shattered remnants of his government and flees to Batmunkh Gompa.

News of ODIN's destruction reaches the ruins of London. They have no idea it has been turned on Green Storm cities as well, and assume it is a new weapon of Naga's. Tom decides to take the Jenny Haniver east to convince the General to not destroy New London, as it will not damage the earth as the other Traction Cities do. He sneaks away in the dead of night, leaving a letter for Wren, confident that Theo and Chudleigh Pomeroy will look after her.

In no-man's land, news comes to Harrowbarrow of the destruction of the Traktionstadtsgesellschaft. Wolf is determined to carry on to the ruins of London, and tells his second-in-command that after the Sixty Minute War, the creatures that survived best were cockroaches and rats. He believes that with the old cities gone, the time for creeping places like Harrowbarrow is at hand, and they continue east.

Part Four[edit]

On the same night that Tom slipped away, Chudleigh Pomeroy died in his sleep. He is succeeded by Mr. Garamond, the paranoid head of security who is convinced that Tom has gone to tell the cities about New London and that Wren and Theo are traitors. He orders them locked up, but an engineer (the mother of Bevis Pod) believes he is wrong and frees them in the night. They sneak away west through the debris fields.

Tom arrives in Batmunkh Gompa and is taken prisoner by the Green Storm. General Naga speaks to him; although he disbelieves his story about New London, he is convinced that something is going on in London's ruins, and becomes suspicious.

Hester's party arrive in Batmunkh Gompa and discover that Tienjing has been destroyed. Shrike speculates that perhaps it is not the Green Storm that controls ODIN but instead a third party, the Stalker Fang. Hester also learns that Tom is being held captive in the city, and goes to see him.

Oenone meets General Naga but he no longer trusts her, still believing ODIN to be a weapon of the Traktionstadtsgesellschaf, and blaming her for the destruction of the city since she pushed for a peace treaty. He has her imprisoned and flies to the ruins of London with a fleet of airships.

Hester is awkwardly reunited with Tom. She frees him just as Pennyroyal comes back from the audience chamber with Naga; he tells them that Oenone has fallen from grace and that Naga intends to destroy London. Another blast from ODIN strikes just to the south, triggering the volcano of Zhan Shan. Shrike suggests they find ODIN's true ground station and destroy it before any more attacks occur.

Leaving the debris fields of London, Wren and Theo encounter Harrowbarrow approaching. Theo runs back to warn the Londoners while Wren stays and convinces Wolf to lead Harrowbarrow down Electric Lane, a clearing where anything metal is struck by residual energy left over from MEDUSA. The Green Storm's air fleet then arrive and the Londoners demonstrate New London's levitation to Naga. He decrees that it is not a city, just a "very large, low-flying airship", and decides to help defend New London against the approaching predator suburb.

Hester, Tom and Shrike fly towards Erdene Tezh, where ODIN's ground station is located. During the journey Hester confesses to Tom that she is Valentine's daughter, and he forgives her for betraying Anchorage. They fall in love again, but are interrupted by Shrike announcing that he has discovered a stowaway: Pennyroyal. As they decide what to do with him, the airship is attacked by Stalker-birds. Shrike defends the ship but falls from it, disappearing down into the mountains. The Jenny Haniver then crashes on the shores of the lake at Erdene Tezh, and the three escape as it burns to ashes. Hester ties up Pennyroyal and hides him as she and Tom approach the house where the ground station is. The Stalker Fang (whose personalities have fused back into one) confronts them. Fishcake, bitter about their betrayal in Infernal Devices, demands that Fang kill them. Tom has a heart attack, however, and she takes them into her house as prisoners.

Meanwhile, Theo and Wren are engaged in a sword fight with Wolf on top of Harrowbarrow, as New London flees through the debris fields. Wren accidentally kills Wolf and they are rescued by General Naga, who takes them back to New London. Harrowbarrow continues to pursue the young city, and the General sacrifices himself by flying his airship into its mouth in a kamikaze attack, destroying both of them. New London escapes across the plains.

Shrike recovers from his fall into the mountains, and climbs out of a frozen lake, running towards Erdene Tezh. Fishcake discovers Pennyroyal in the bushes and frees him, telling him about the airship and how the keys are kept around the Stalker's neck. Pennyroyal, realising that he has no other way to escape, salvages an electricity gun from the wreck of the Jenny Haniver and creeps towards the house.

Inside Tom has recovered from his heart attack, and Fang tells the two of them about her plans. She intends to fire ODIN on volcanoes across the world, blotting out the sky with volcanic ash and wiping out the human race in the resulting volcanic winter. She believes it is the only way to make the world green again. Tom pleads with the Anna side of her to destroy ODIN, and after an internal struggle the Stalker sends a new set of orders up to the orbiting weapon. Pennyroyal bursts into the house and attacks Fang with the electricity gun shortly after. He manages to kill her, but also sets the house on fire. Tom has another heart attack, and lies helpless in Hester's arms. She drags him outside as Pennyroyal runs to get the airship and get Tom to a doctor. On board the airship, however, Fishcake puts a knife to Pennyroyal's throat and forces him to fly away, abandoning Tom and Hester the same way they abandoned him on Brighton. Hester sees him fly away, and understands. Tom dies in her arms, and Hester peacefully commits suicide to be with him in death. Above them, ODIN follows Anna Fang's last order and turns its weapon upon itself, raining debris down on the planet.

With the Green Storm's armies shattered and the Traktionstadtsgesellschaft smashed, Oenone is appointed the new leader of Shan Guo. New London prospers, and Wren and Theo become air-traders. Fishcake returns to the mountains to find Sathya; he grows old and has children, and finds in his later life that he regrets abandoning Tom and Hester, although he believes that they managed to find a way to escape. Pennyroyal, after spending time in debtors' prison, tries to publish a new book in which he confesses to all his lies and tells the truth about what happened at Erdene Tezh, but fails to find a publisher. He lives out the rest of his life with an old girlfriend in the Traction City of Peripetitiapolis.

Shrike arrives at Erdene Tezh too late and finds Tom and Hester's bodies. He briefly considers taking Hester to Oenone to have her turned into a Stalker, but realises that she wants to be with Tom in death and instead takes them up into the mountains where he lays them down together. He goes into hibernation and watches as they decompose and new plants and trees grow from their remains. After hundreds of years pass, he sees a girl putting a ring of flowers around his neck, and starts to slow his hibernation. When he finally reanimates he sees another girl, who thought he was just an old statue and put flowers around him for luck, as has been the tradition since her grandmother's time. He follows her down into a valley where her village rests in the ruins of an old city. He starts to decipher the language of the villagers, and discovers that traction cities are considered a fairytale. Cities no longer move, except in stories, but airships still exist, powered by magnetic levitation.

The villagers take him to the town hall and ask if he is one of the machine men out of stories they have heard. Shrike tells them he is a "Remembering Machine". He says that he remembers the age of the Traction Cities, London and Arkangel, Thaddeus Valentine and Anna Fang, and Hester and Tom. The villagers gather round and ask him to tell them. He begins to tell them his story, beginning with the first line of Mortal Engines.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ezard, John (2006-09-28). "Philip Reeve wins the Guardian children's fiction prize". Guardian Unlimited (London). Retrieved 2007-12-21. 
  2. ^ "Guardian Children's Fiction Prize 2006". guardian.co.uk. 2012-08-06. top page. [dead link]
  3. ^ "And the L.A. Times Book Prize winners are...". LA Times "Jacket Copy" Blog. 2008-04-25. Retrieved 2008-05-02. 

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