Advertisement - Content continues below
Books

The Black Locomotive by Rian Hughes: Adventurous and original

A novel that successfully pulls off wild flights of fancy in a story that remains utterly convincing in spite of its exploration of huge ideas.

I have a special soft spot for authors who take risks. It would be easy, especially if you’ve had success, to keep turning out similar books, staying within your comfort zone. But the best writers are the ones who move away from the safety net and give readers something new and exciting – and so it is with this book, Black Locomotive by Rian Hughes. 

I raved about XX, Hughes’s debut book last year, a mind-boggling science-fiction graphic novel that mixed scintillating plotting with big ideas and elements of typography and design that blew my socks off. Black Locomotive has some superficial similarities to its predecessor – certain design elements and a speculative fictional universe – but it a more mature and emotionally engaging piece of storytelling.

Article continues below

The novel is set in London, and it could be argued that the city is its main character too, as Hughes digs deep (literally) under the surface of what makes the capital tick. A top-secret extension to the underground network is being built, but progress is halted when workmen discover a strange anomaly, a cavernous space that has archaeologists confused.

As the anomaly is explored, first by workers on the project, then by a rogue artist-in-residence within the team, the implications for the city become profound. And when power fails across the whole of London, one of the men in charge has to recruit a mythical secret society of steam train enthusiasts to help avert catastrophe.

All of which might sound a little out there, but trust me, the book is a lot more out there than that spoiler-free summary gets across. The genius of Hughes is that he pulls off these wild flights of fancy with a swagger and confidence that are utterly convincing. As the narrative switches between the anomaly and the rescue party, Hughes expertly ramps up the tension to breaking point, casually throwing in more big ideas on every page, and grounding the whole thing in an emotional reality that really pulls the reader along. If only all fiction was this adventurous and original.

The Black Locomotiveby Rian Hughes is out now (Picador, £16.99)

Advertisement - Content continues below
Advertisement - Content continues below
Advertisement - Content continues below

Support The Big Issue and our vendors this Christmas

Every time you buy a copy of The Big Issue, subscribe or donate, you are helping our vendors to work their way out of poverty by providing 'a hand up not a hand out.' You’re helping Big Issue vendors achieve their #BigWish

Recommended for you

Read All
Top 5 books for rebel girls, chosen by Vivian French
Top 5 Books

Top 5 books for rebel girls, chosen by Vivian French

Book reviews: The Fell and The Selfless Act of Breathing
Book review

Book reviews: The Fell and The Selfless Act of Breathing

The past, present and future of Mr Men and Little Miss books as they celebrate their 50th birthday
Books

The past, present and future of Mr Men and Little Miss books as they celebrate their 50th birthday

What I learned from being held hostage for 450 days
Edith Blais

What I learned from being held hostage for 450 days

Most Popular

Read All
Video showing Boris Johnson repeatedly 'lying' to parliament hits 40 million views
1.

Video showing Boris Johnson repeatedly 'lying' to parliament hits 40 million views

Legacy benefits freeze left disabled people living on ‘historically’ low payments, court hears
2.

Legacy benefits freeze left disabled people living on ‘historically’ low payments, court hears

'Noel Gallagher was mega hungover and Will.i.am kept walking off' - The stories behind Big Issue photoshoots
3.

'Noel Gallagher was mega hungover and Will.i.am kept walking off' - The stories behind Big Issue photoshoots

Plans to remove British citizenship without notice 'would repeat Windrush mistakes'
4.

Plans to remove British citizenship without notice 'would repeat Windrush mistakes'