Reader Reviewed Railhead by Philip Reeve


Written by Philip Reeve

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The Lovereading4Kids comment

One of our Books of the Year 2015 - Julia Eccleshare's Pick of the Year 2015 - October 2015 Book of the Month Set in a shining future world, where trains rumble not just through towns and countryside but across whole galaxies, Philip Reeve’s new novel drenches its readers with extraordinary scenes, images and ideas. Zen Starling is a petty thief; offered the chance of a brand new life in return for carrying out one small job of course he accepts, and is immediately caught up in a war that could destroy his entire world. Beautifully written, brilliantly inventive, this gripping adventure, a combination of sci-fi utopia, conspiracy thriller and romance, will set hearts racing. Thoughtful readers prepared to take their time will find echoes of many other great works of fiction, all of which add to Railhead’s richness. And who could resist the trains – ‘the old, wise trains of the Network, barracuda-beautiful, dreaming their dreams of speed and distance as they raced from world to world’? It will turn us all into railheads. ~ Andrea Reece

A message from Philip Reeve: “There have been a lot of dystopian and post-apocalyptic stories published for children and young adults over the past decade (some of them written by me), so I thought it would make a nice change to write about a more hi-tech future where technology has answered many of our present-day problems. I’ve always wanted to have a go at an old-fashioned space opera set in a society that sprawls across dozens of different planets. But I found spaceships strangely hard to write about; flights of fancy always work best when they have a toehold in reality, and I had no store of real-world imagery to which spaceships could be anchored. While I was mulling over this problem, I was travelling all round the country doing book events, and since I don’t drive, I generally travelled by train. Watching the rails and stations go by, I started to realise that trains are far stranger and more romantic than any spaceship . . .So I scrapped my space story and rebuilt it in a new setting, the Network Empire, a future human civilisation which is built around a network of railway lines that criss-crosses the galaxy, passing from world to world through mysterious hyperspace portals called K-gates. And into this mostly peaceful, mostly prosperous empire I threw a young thief called Zen, and set about seeing what adventures he could stumble into."

A Piece of Passion from Liz Cross, Head of Publishing, Children’s Books, OUP: ‘It’s always exciting to read a book which takes you into a whole new world, sending you on a journey alongside characters who become as real to you as your own friends. Railhead does that in the most extraordinary way – somehow creating a futuristic, high-tech world which utterly convinces us at the same time that it dazzles us with its originality. It’s an epic, unforgettable, hugely pleasurable read."

Reader Reviews

Teens love to read and so in addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Lovereading4kids Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title. You can read their full reviews by clicking here.

  • Eloise Mae Clarkson - 'I would rate this book five out of five stars. I really hope there are sequels!'
  • Celeste Phelan, age 13 - 'A tangle of mystery, adventure and suspense as, after all the excitement is endless once you begin riding the rails.'
  • Megan Chambers, age 14 - 'I recommend this book to absolutely everyone!'
  • Jack Graham, age 15 - 'Railhead is yet another great book from Philip Reeve, author of the mortal engines quartet. A novel featuring mystery and intrigue leads young thief Zen Starling on a deadly adventure.'
  • Rosa Broan, age 15 - 'It is a fast-paced adventure story, packed with action.  I couldn’t put it down.  I didn’t think it could be as good as Mortal Engines but it is!'
  • Melanie Chadwick - 'There were a lot of twists and completely unexpected deaths.  There were lots of great characters and a satisfying ending.'
  • Louisa Cunliffe, age 18 - 'A stand out book in the overcrowded modern sci fi genre, Rail Head is an utterly brilliant and original story.'
  • Katie Miller, age 13 - 'Gripping. Makes you feel as if you are the character.'
  • Lily Blue Harper - 'Railhead is an exciting and action packed story with interesting characters and unique ideas.'
  • Emily, age 14 - 'Thrilling and fast paced, this is a gripping book that will keep you absolutely stuck to the pages.'
  • Jessica Anderson - 'This book is amazing, even though I don’t really enjoy fantasies!  I find that it is very well written and is a must read.'


Railhead by Philip Reeve

Come with me, Zen Starling, she had said. The girl in the red coat. But how did she know his name? The Great Network is a place of drones and androids, maintenance spiders and Station Angels. The place of the thousand gates, where sentient trains criss-cross the galaxy in a heartbeat. Zen Starling is a petty thief, a street urchin from Thunder City. So when mysterious stranger Raven sends Zen and his new friend Nova on a mission to infiltrate the Emperor's train, he jumps at the chance to traverse the Great Network, to cross the galaxy in a heartbeat, to meet interesting people - and to steal their stuff. But the Great Network is a dangerous place, and Zen has no idea where his journey will take him...

Railhead is the long-awaited new novel by Carnegie and Guardian Book Award winner Philip Reeve. It’s a book that he has been thinking about for ten years and that is hotly anticipated by fans, reviewers and the book-trade. It is a gripping story written for both teens and adults alike, with the epic sweep and emotional pull of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights. The film rights to Railhead have been sold to Warner Brothers.

You can read more about Railhead on Philip Reeve's website and see a short movie he has shot of him reading the first chapter of the book.


'There is plenty here to please fans: vivid world-building, extraordinary beings and a story of epic proportions.'

'There were so many other extraordinary beings and imaginative details that pulled together to create a thrilling ride into a whimsical futuristic world.'

'This book was so good; I loved every second of it.' 'A stand-out book in the overcrowded modern sci-fi genre, Railhead is an utterly brilliant and original story. '...satisfying, twisting and turning without losing momentum

'...the emotions of the characters (even the robot who wants freckles) draws you in wholeheartedly. Railhead is superb.'

'The Best Young Adult Books of 2015' '...this novel may be the stand out sci-fi novel of the year.'

'It's a must read for sci-fi fans!'

'an electrifying triumph' 'Staff Picks', Mail Bookshop 'it's an adrenaline ride that takes the reader through multiple emotions'

'Its greatest pleasures are its details, which are as richly imagined as in the best adult science fiction'

'Philip Reeve has again created a detailed, plausible new world in Railhead ... may well be up there with the world he created in his Mortal Engines quartet'

's Choice and one of the best books for Christmas 2015 'a futuristic vision that enthrals and chills'

'Scope and potential fizz and pop'

'Philip Reeve ... creates another of his extraordinary imaginary worlds, this time for teenagers'

'A futuristic vision that enthrals and thrills'

'The world itself is magnetic'

'With many twists and turns along the track and high-octane action all the way to the thrilling climax, Railhead never lets up on delivering the thrills and creativity readers expect from a story like this.'

/South China Morning Post

About the Author

Philip Reeve

Philip Reeve was our Guest Editor for June 2012. Click here to see his books and some that inspired him.

Philip Reeve was born and raised in Brighton, where he worked in a bookshop for years while also producing and directing a number of no-budget theatre projects. Philip then began illustrating and has since provided cartoons and jokes for around forty books, including the best-selling Scholastic series Horrible Histories, as well as Murderous Maths and Dead Famous. He's been writing stories since he was five, but Mortal Engines was the first to be published.

Mortal Engines defies easy categorisation. It is a gripping adventure story set in an inspired fantasy world, where moving cities trawl the globe. A magical and unique read, it immediately caught the attention of readers and reviewers and won several major awards. Three more Predator Cities novels followed, and Philip's latest project are the Fever Crumb books, prequels set centuries before the events of Mortal Engines. Philip has also written Buster Bayliss, a series for younger readers, and stand alone novels including Here Lies Arthur, which won the Carnegie Medal. Philip lives in Devon with his wife and son and his interests are walking, drawing, writing and reading.

Click here to see a Philip talking about his new adventure book, Oliver and the Seawigs, a collaboration with Sarah McIntyre.

Philip Reeve's fiction publisher, Marion Lloyd, describes his Predator Cities series:

“..inspiring adventure stories, in whose futuristic, post-apocalyptic setting, moving cities trawl the Earth. They attack and consume each other in wastelands where natural resources are scarce, and Ancient technology is fought for. Fast-paced, sometimes violent, always surprising and original, Reeve’s epic sequence of love, war and adventure are richly rewarding for both adults and children.”

Praise for Philip Reeve:

‘Intelligent, funny and wise’ - Literary Review on Fever Crumb

‘Reeve drives his juggernaut of a talent through the streets of a mob-crazed futuristic London with Cecil B DeMille grandeur. Resent being suckered into sequels? Fever Crumb is a complete story – but it may prove addictive’ - Geraldine McCaughrean, Daily Telegraph on Fever Crumb

‘A masterpiece’ - Sunday Telegraph

‘A majestic achievement’ - Sunday Times

‘Marvellous… utterly captivating in its imaginative scope and energy’ - Daily Telegraph

‘Brilliant… an absorbing and emotionally engaging work’ - Amanda Craig, The Times

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Book Info


320 pages


Philip Reeve
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Oxford University Press

Publication date

1st October 2015




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