Only five months late, it’s time for the next Crackin’ Characters post. This time I’d like to introduce the fierce and unforgettable Hester Shaw from Philip Reeve’s: Mortal Engines Quartet.
”Mortal Engines” is Philip Reeve’s brilliantly-imagined creation, the world of the Traction Era, where mobile cities fight for survival in a post-apocalyptic future. The first instalment introduces young apprentice Tom Natsworthy and the murderous Hester Shaw flung from the fast-moving city of London into heart-stopping adventures in the wastelands of the Great Hunting Ground.
If you’re looking for a complex character, then you’ve most certainly got it with Hester Shaw! On first glance, Hester is a cold, hard-faced girl, who doesn’t think twice about killing somebody if needs demand it, and certainly doesn’t feel any remorse afterwards. And therefore, perhaps a strange choice for this list, at least if you’ve not yet met her.
This persona is certainly cultivated by Hester herself and reinforced by her heavily scarred appearance, a result of attack in which her parents were murdered.
Ever since that attack when she was seven, Hester has been set on revenge. She spends a number of years (prior to the start of the quartet) living with Strike, as his apprentice and pseudo adoptive daughter. Shrike is a Stalker, (reputedly the last one), and bounty hunter/assassin for hire. She eventually leaves to find and kill her parents murderer, which is where we meet her for the first time.
There is another side to Hester though, one that only the few people she allows in, get to see. It’s can’t really be described as a softer side… But there is a somewhat more kind-hearted Hester as well, one that allows for friends, a lover (Tom) and loyalty.
“You aren’t a hero and I’m not beautiful and we probably won’t live happily ever after ” she said. “But we’re alive and together and we’re going to be all right.”
― Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines
It’s with Tom in particular that Hester shows a softer, sweeter side to her personality to show, it’s both natural and forced, as this is that Hester is not a person she finds easy to be, however much she might want it to be true. The hard, cold-blooded Hester is never far away, and Hester’s comment about not living ‘happily ever after’ feels quite portentous looking back.
Even so, she’s got a nice line in sarcasm and can be quite amusing at times. 😉
“Is it…dead?” asked Tom, his voice all quivery with fright.
“A town just ran over him,” said Hester. “I shouldn’t think he’s very well…”
― Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines
But it’s where Philip Reeve takes Hester’s character as her story and the quartet reaches the final stages, that truly makes her memorable. It’s not easy to talk about without spoiling things if you haven’t read the series, so I’m not going to here, but if you have, you’ll know he doesn’t pull any punches with her character’s journey.
It’s a brave move to take a character reader’s will have come to care about, and move her in a direction the they may not like, but it is the right thing to do for her character, and makes denouement of her character arc all the more meaningful.
The fact that Hester is quite often hard-to-like, is what makes her both so memorable and in the end, easy to admire.
Start discovering Hester Shaw in the first book of the Predator Cities Quartet: Mortal Engines.
“It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.”