Review of ‘Railhead’ by Philip Reeve

‘Only trains can ride the K-bahn: the old, wise trains of the Empire, barracuda-beautiful, dreaming their dreams of speed and distance as they race from world to world.’

I borrowed this futuristic YA thriller from the library a few years ago and liked it so much that I bought it. This is therefore my second time reading this fantastic book.

It’s set in the far future, when humans have colonised other planets all over the galaxy, travelling between them by train. The trains are sentient, with their own personalities. Bio-engineering, smart fabrics, drones, androids, virtual reality and linked internets (the ‘data sea’) are features of everyday life. The settings and atmosphere pay homage to popular culture of our times and so everything is easy to picture in your head.

The story follows teenager Zen Starling, a thief who is drawn into a plot which threatens to start a war between the ruling families. Along the way, he falls in love with a female android, Nova, who is unique and wants to be human. The plot is action-packed, intelligent without being scientific, and full of interesting characters such as the Hive Monks (beings who are composed of insects) and Flex (a gender-fluid android who paints masterpieces on trains). There’s a detailed glossary at the back of the book, which explains the concepts, locations and history of this fictional, but plausible, universe.

Railhead was going to be adapted into a film, but I haven’t found any recent news on that, so maybe it was shelved. Although it would make a good film, I think it would be difficult to get right.

The trilogy continues with Black Light Express and Station Zero.

First published in 2015.

Leave a Reply