Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Publication Date: 5/1/12
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Blurb: 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.
The Drowned Cities is a completely different story from Ship Breaker. Paolo's intent for Ship Breaker was to write a boy book, with action, adventure and explosions, and with a little bit of a moral lesson about bravery and loyalty. But I doubt The Drowned Cities was written with the same agenda in mind. Or if it was, the final novel far exceeded its original intent. The Drowned Cities is a heavy, brutal, unequivocally message-driven story that no one will dismiss as a simple entertainment.
This is a story of war. The kind of war that is playing out in many parts of our world right now. The setting of The Drowned Cities is futuristic/dystopian (slightly post-apocalyptic?) - natural resources are scarce, global warming has caused a climate change and extensive flooding of many parts of the planet, US is torn by civil war the reasons for which no one can any longer remember, China is a mega power that attempts to act as a peacekeeper, there are genetically augmented "people" who do rich men's bidding in all spheres of life from war combat to sexual services (this later "sphere" is not actually written into this YA novel, but a part of the larger The Windup Girl universe). But there is nothing in this fictional world that, on a human level, is not already happening in reality. And what is happening is that people are murdering each other for no good reason, children are being recruited to advance various war lords' convoluted political and financial agendas, livelihoods are being destroyed and citizens killed and exploited by the same soldiers who claim to protect and serve them.
Reading The Drowned Cities was an immensely intense experience for me. Every time I put the book down and came back to it later, it only took me a few pages to put me again and again into a high level of anxiety and fear for its characters. Not many YA books can keep me in suspense these days, but The Drowned Cities did. With that said, I want to assure you, the book never becomes a tearjerker or tragedy porn or shocking for the shock's sake. It is an honest, real and raw portrayal of what happens every day in the countries we don't care and don't want to think about.
If Mockingjay or Chaos Walking Trilogy are your favorite reads, The Drowned Cities is your next natural reading choice.
And yet, somehow these dark, twisted, eerily prophetic tales make me feel lifted. Maybe it’s because, set against such bleak settings, the hope stands out even more acutely. In the very harsh world of The Drowned Cities, it stands out in moments of sacrifice and resistance: in all the moments when these characters fight to rise out of the grim world they were born into. It’s in the reckless bravery of one damaged child to save another. It’s in the momentary resistance of one hardened teenage soldier to years of violence and trauma. It’s in the deceptively foolish actions of a peaceful man. It’s the strength within one born and bred killer to choose another path. These moments are brief and often fruitless, but they're powerful within the scope of a single life.
But that’s not the entirety of it. It’s hard for me to articulate this properly, but there’s a certain much broader, more ambiguous hope that I think Paolo Bacigalupi paints so incredibly well. It’s a hope that stems from our complete and utter insignificance. We crawl around this Earth, warring with each other and consuming every resource, leaving waste and pollution behind. And yet, the Earth goes on. The Earth finds ways to thrive despite us, because of us. It adapts. Even as we are molding this world into an incompatible home for ourselves, we are remaking it for something, someone else. We are so arrogant; we feel so separate, but the truth is that we aren’t above nature. We are a part of it. We are a small piece of this powerful, wild system that can’t ever be controlled. Even when we try to control it, it slips right out of our hands. We are such a miniscule, temporary part of this Earth’s history. All we have is this one brief moment to live the best we can and to try our hardest not to be a part of the violence and destruction. And even if we fail, this world will go on without us, just as it has for millennia. For some reason, I find a lot of hope in that.
What do all of my ramblings about hope have to do with this book? Everything, says my addled brain. Or maybe nothing. Maybe you’ll have an entirely different feeling, but I can almost guarantee that you’ll feel something for this intense book and its characters. Just read it. If you don’t trust me (understandable – this review is completely unhelpful), scroll back up and let Tatiana’s much more lucid words convince you.
Perfect Musical Pairing
Nine Inch Nails - The Good Soldier
"I am trying to see
I am trying to believe
This is not where I should be
I am trying to believe
Blood hardens in the sand
Cold metal in my hand
Hope you understand the way that things are gonna be
There's nowhere left to hide, 'cause God is on our side
I keep telling myself."