Review originally posted here
.Why I Read It:
I actually bought this before I even read Ship Breaker
, so it was just a happy coincidence that I ended up liking the first book set in this world so much. I mostly bought it because this book has been receiving A LOT of favourable reviews from bloggers I trust, and a lot of them claimed that it was even better than Ship Breaker
Okay, first off, the claims that this book is better than Ship Breaker
are 100% RIGHT. This is only third book to receive a 5-star rating from me on goodreads this year (the other two are A Little Wanting Song
by Cath Crowley and Joe the Barbarian
by Grant Morrison for anyone who's curious) and for very good reason.
While Ship Breaker's
world was grim and ruthless, it looks like a rather welcoming and friendly place in comparison to the world of The Drowned Cities
. It's a place plagued by civil war that no one really knows why they're fighting anymore, and it's being fought with children. Once again, Bacigalupi takes a real-world issue and infuses it in his novel that is making a commentary about it without being didactic or condescending to the reader. Child soldiers are a very unfortunately reality of our current world, and this novel highlights that; Bacigalupi doesn't try to cover any of it up, and we can't hide from the reality of it like we do so often in the real world. The whole psychology of child soldiers was dealt with brilliantly and tragically with the character of Mouse/Ghost -- watching his transformation from a kind and resourceful war refugee to a reluctant murderer was heart-breaking.
The pacing of the novel isn't quite at the neck-breaking speed of Ship Breaker
; it's quite slow in the beginning, but makes up for it by further fleshing out the world we were introduced to in Ship Breaker
. We learn about Mahlia's father, who was a Chinese peace-keeper who came with many others in order to try to stop the war -- which is another social commentary on the futility of peace armies -- but ultimately fled and left Mahlia and her mother behind. We're also reintroduced to Tool which made me, and I'm sure many other readers of Ship Breaker
, happy as he was one of the more interesting characters. We get some back-story on him as well, without it being info-dumpy. The second half of the novel had much more action and I only put the book down with great reluctance.
The characters are what really drive the book home. I've already mentioned Mouse and his narrative arc briefly, but the others deserve mention as well. Mahlia was a fantastic lead character: she lives in a world that wants nothing to do with her (people can tell she's half-chinese and the peacekeepers weren't exactly popular) but she still strives to do the right thing. Her loyalty to Mouse, one of the only people to ever show her kindness (aside from the doctor Mahfouze) is touching and is one of the only rays of hope in a world that's so devoid of it. Tool was interesting because you never really find out WHAT motivates him, aside from feeling at home within war and violence. He follows Mahlia and protects her, but WHY he does so is ambiguous (or maybe it wasn't and I'm just missing something?) Regardless, it was touching and is another small spark of hope and goodness. It's an interesting binary that the only way that Mahlia and Tool know how to do good is to perpetuate violence, but NOT for violence's sake: they do it to survive in a world that rejects them.
The writing felt improved from Ship Breaker
as well. It's a little more ornate while still retaining that gritty pointedness; it's still layered while also being simplistic, and thus offers a lot to older readers, but will not be lost on younger readers either.Final Verdict:
This companion novel was even better than Ship Breaker
(which is saying quite a bit, as that title was pretty fantastic). I really hope that Bacigalupi writes more stories in this vivid and brutal world he's created (but honestly? I'll read anything this man writes.) The story was a little slower this time around, but was made up with the wonderful world-building -- real-world issues are once again applied to create a believable future -- and the conflicted characters were sympathetic. I'd recommend reading this even if you haven't yet read Ship Breaker
; it's stands perfectly fine on its own and I don't think readers need the previous novel to truly appreciate this one. Very highly recommended, and one of my favourite reads of the year.