This review is going to be a two-fer. I was originally tasked with reviewing Philip Reeves’ second book in his Railhead series, Black Light Express. But I figured I would read the first book to make sure I knew what was what and who was who. Boy, am I glad I did.
Railhead is a story like I have never read before. It revolves around a young man named Zen Starling, a thief and general pain in the ass who fancies himself a railhead. A railhead is someone who loves riding the trains. But the trains in Zen’s world are no ordinary trains and they do not travel to ordinary destinations. The trains are sophisticated thinking machines with personalities and they travel on the K‑bahn, a railway system that goes to other worlds within the Network Empire. The tunnels contain portals called K-gates. A great way for a thief to travel, right? Wrong. Everyone, and I mean everyone, wears a headset that connects them to something called the Datasea. It’s like the Internet on the best and worst steroids imaginable and is controlled by the Guardians, artificial intelligences created by humans on Old Earth (where we are now) . Everything is in the Datasea: ads, threedies (movies from Old Earth), security footage, and basically every move anyone makes. Basically, our future.
In Railhead, Zen gets mixed up in a scheme to steal something called the Pyxis, and it is that scheme (masterminded by the one they call Raven) that sets things in chaotic motion. To say Zen’s life changes is an understatement. The young thief goes from a nobody to a wanted man in no time at all. But Zen also has a secret, one that could change his life forever. In Black Light Express, Philip Reeve continues the story of Zen Starling, introducing readers to new characters, worlds and, of course, trains.
I don’t want to give too much away about Black Light Express because you really should read Railhead first. The author created a world that could very well become our reality. With technology constantly changing and the Internet becoming more and more a part of our everyday lives, Zen Starling’s world is fathomable. Being a lover of trains myself, I had no problem imagining what it would feel like to be on a train, traveling to other worlds as easily as I travel to the West Village. One of the most unnerving things about this book is the fact that Old Earth (our Earth) is considered a relic. The way things are going now, that could very well become possible.
Black Light Express seamlessly continues Zen’s story, but again, I don’t want to say too much (I know, it’s annoying). But trust me, you’ll be glad I didn’t spoil it. Just let Railhead and Black Light Express take you to worlds unknown. The next train will be arriving shortly.
Railhead and Black Light Express are out now. BUY THEM!