Soldier boys emerged from the darkness. Guns gleamed dully. Bullet bandoliers and scars draped their bare chests. Ugly brands scored their faces. She knew why these soldier boys had come. She knew what they sought, and she knew, too, that if they found it, her best friend would surely die. In a dark future America where violence, terror, and grief touch everyone, young refugees Mahlia and Mouse have managed to leave behind the war-torn lands of the Drowned Cities by escaping into the jungle outskirts. But when they discover a wounded half-man--a bioengineered war beast named Tool--who is being hunted by a vengeful band of soldiers, their fragile existence quickly collapses. One is taken prisoner by merciless soldier boys, and the other is faced with an impossible decision: Risk everything to save a friend, or flee to a place where freedom might finally be possible. This thrilling companion to Paolo Bacigalupi's highly acclaimed Ship Breaker is a haunting and powerful story of loyalty, survival, and heart-pounding adventure. ~From GoodReads
Set in the catastrophic ruins of a future America, THE DROWNED CITIES is a book that consumed my thoughts from nearly the first page forth. To be honest, I didn't expect to love this book. I actually took it for review only because I like to keep my reading horizons expanded. I had looked into the first book in the series, THE SHIP BREAKER, and was impressed by the acclaim it had received. Since THE DROWNED CITIES was a companion and not a sequel, I felt that I could safely jump into the world and not flail in the lost details. For the most part, I succeeded. Once I was able to grasp what this future America looked and functioned as, I was good to go.
Brutal. The story is absolutely, utterly brutal. Imagine the horrors of the never ending wars, the horrific genocide that has occured on an endless loop in Africa. The horror that we've only seen in newscasts, or movies watched in the comforts of our homes. But the horror is here, in America, and it's happening to you. Warring factions are deadlocked in a ceaseless battle for control of territories. They each claim to be working for the better good, but they only work to scavenge the land, leaving you alive long enough to fulfill your usefulness. This is your America. Flooded. Broken. Poisoned. Are you scared? That is the feeling that filled me as I read THE DROWNED CITIES. I despaired for the world, for Mahlia and Mouse.
I will probably be flogged for saying this, but in my opinion, Mahlia is a heroine that surpasses the exceedingly popular Katniss Everdeen. I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with Katniss, but I am saying that I connected with Mahlia in a way I never did with Katniss. Mahlia's spirit, her will to survive, is one of the strongest I've ever read. She is faced with near impossible choices, with no sure or easy outcome. She makes dangerous choices, sometimes the wrong choices that cost those around her, but she stands behind the decisions. Although Mahlia isn't technically a soldier, she is at war. She is simply another casualty of the war around her.
In the end, you can do with THE DROWNED CITIES as you wish. You can read it strictly as an epic adventure. And it most certainly is. The journey that Mahlia takes is entertaining and tension-riddled as they come. You can also read the story as an allegory. A cautionary tale on the consequences of destroying the earth, and of war. Or you can do what I chose and accept it as both. THE DROWNED CITIES is a story that took me on a brutal, beautiful, terrifying, and thought-provoking journey. And although I did not need to read THE SHIP BREAKER to enjoy this, I have already ordered a copy so I won't miss a single moment of the haunting tale.
" 'Lock it away,' the half-man whispered. 'You feel, after. Not now. Now you are a soldier. Now you do your duty for your pack. If you break, your Mouse will die, and you with him. Feel, after. Not now.' " (pg. 196)
"None of it made any sense. He hadn't done anything one way or the other to end up where he was. The tide of war had rolled in and swallowed him up, and Banyan Town with him, and they'd all tumbled in the surf. And for reasons he couldn't understand, he'd broken the surface and managed to breathe, while everyone else was drowning alive." (pg. 274)
Published May 1st 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
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Source: Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.