The Drowned Cities

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The Drowned Cities (Ship Breaker, Book 2)
Paolo Bacigalupi

Publisher’s Blurb:

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.

I would like to preface this with the fact that I haven’t read the first book in this series yet (though that fact will be changing in the very near future).  Having said that, this is one of those rare books wherein it’s completely unnecessary to have read the first book in the series. Normally when I discover that I accidentally picked up the second book of a series, I give it about ten pages and then put it down in frustration because I’m clearly missing something huge that’s happened that’s super critical to this plot.  In this book, there’s every indication that huge things have happened, what with the whole war-torn jungle that used to be America, but it doesn’t constantly remind you that you missed Book 1.  I’m actually really looking forward to reading Book 1 now given the deft hand that was evident in this one.

Now, to the story:  it’s amazing.  It combines the horror and pain of Vietnam with Iraq and adds in a sprinkling of Afghanistan, but in a future where science has created a perfect killing machine.  The irony is that even though it’s in the future, it feels like it’s set in the Dark Ages, that period after the fall of Rome when the whole of the world was plunged into chaos and plague.  The sheer brutality of the book was both visceral and compelling.  The truly terrifying part is that about half way through the book, I realized that this is totally plausible.  First one politician accuses the other of treason, and then the other fires back.  It’s easy to see the snowball effect there.  The brilliance of Bacigalupi’s writing is that he gave me that whole history, the accusations followed by the division, followed by the taking up of arms, and then chaos, he gave me all of that over the span of maybe two sentences.  He made me see my world implode with twenty five words (give or take).

And within that world he gives you these characters of unflagging bravery and courage, even when they’re claiming to be cowards.  They live in a world where nothing is sure, but each other and themselves and he makes events turn around them and yet they still put one foot in front of the other.   It’s delightful to read.  When one thinks of the children of war, I usually look on with sympathy at the little ones who have been orphaned and are helpless in the face of wonton destruction.  Bacigalupi’s children of war are so much more than that.  Sure, they’ve been orphaned, but they aren’t helpless.  Mahlia listened to her peacekeeper father’s lessons on The Art of War and little Mouse knows where to forage for food in the jungle surrounding the Drowned Cities.  However, Bacigalupi used the brutality of the book to put his characters in danger over and over again and it made the book enthralling because he had gone to the trouble to make me care for them first.  Even Tool was never the animal that he could have been seen to be.  He was a warrior, albeit a wounded one.

I could gush about this book for ages, but there’s no need for that.  Pick up the book.  I really can’t recommend it enough.  It’s a gut wrenching tale that will grab hold of your brain stem and won’t let go.

4.5 ink bottles
Character Believability: 4.5 Buffys
Character Investibility:  4.5 Doctors
Pacing/Tension/Urgency: 5 Dresdens
Worldbuilding: 4.5 Snyders
Language: 5 Feegles
Mystery:  4 Sherlocks

Book Links:  GoodreadsPublisher

Book Trailer:

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