Plot: When the Chinese peacekeepers left the Drowned Cities, the competing warlords moved back in. The abandoned half-chinese children were killed as collaborators. Mahlia is one of the few castoffs who survived, though she lost a hand in her escape. But her fragile peace is threatened when she and her friend Mouse discover a wounded half-man known as Tool in the jungle. The genetically engineered warrior is on the run from the United Patriot Front and they are determined to catch him no matter who they hurt in the process. When Mouse is taken prisonner by these merciless soldier boys, Mahlia must decide whether she is willing to risk everything she has left to return to the war-torn Drowned Cities and save him.
I need a moment to calm myself because this book was so good. I have no words.
Ok, I guess I’ll need some words for a review. I loved Bacigalupi’s YA debut, Ship Breaker, he’s a skilled writer and he created a fascinating, troubling world. But he has managed to surpass himself with The Drowned Cities. This is not an easy book. It is visceral, it is violent and it offers no simple answers (though it has something of a happy ending).
His post-apocalytic world is described so vividly that you feel like you’re there… which is not always a comfortable feeling. It is all the more eerie because present day Washington D.C. is still recognizable beneath all the water, jungles, rubble and war (even to a Canadian like myself).
The characters of the Drowned Cities are as complicated as the world they live in: none are simply good or evil (though one or two are quite twisted). All of the characters do terrible things. Mahlia and Tool are actually quite alike in their practicality, their drive for survival and their keen intelligence. They are both outsiders, betrayed and abandonned by the world. I wouldn’t call them friends, exactly – they have a mutual understanding perhaps? – but their relationship is fascinating to follow. Equally fascinating are the boy soldiers, Ocho and Ghost especially. Bacigalupi shows us in horrifying detail how they are indoctrinated and used up by the warlords. It’s worse because I know there are boys like them in the world today.
I was on the edge of my seat from begining to end, hoping it would end well for all the characters but suspecting that it couldn’t. Things just kept getting worse and worse. It’s hard to put a satisfying ending on a story like that but Bacigalupi succeeded. He gave us an ending that was both tragic and hopeful, one that perfectly fit his characters and his world.
Read this book and definitely check out the companion book, Ship Breaker, for the first appearances of Tool and Bacigalupi’s post-apocalyptic United States. Meanwhile I’ll be waiting for more stories from this world.