Thursday, July 5, 2012
Review: The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi
Tags: YA, dystopian, war
War has ravaged what was previously the United States of America. Two friends and orphaned victims of the war, Mahlia and Mouse, struggle to be safe and to get out of the terrifying hands of the different political/military factions that are all too willing to pressure young "war maggots" to sign up for their cause, lives be damned. With the help of a scary half-man named Tool, a genetically modified superfighter, do Mahlia and Mouse stand a chance to escape to freedom?
This is very clearly one of those “it’s not you, it’s me” situations. Bacigalupi is a great writer. He can come up with a unique dystopian premise, lay it out in all its entirety, and still proceed to shock readers with the depth of emotions he can conjure up for the characters and their predicaments. A less squeamish reader would probably appreciate the brilliance and magnitude of this impressive story. But I squirm over stories about featuring war, violence, and heartless characters.
It is an intriguing feature of Ship Breaker, and now THE DROWNED CITIES, that I don't think readers are ever supposed to like the main characters very much. They're not lovable: a hard childhood has taught Mahlia to be humorless and untrusting, while Mouse, in comparison, is scrawny and cowardly. I guess we're supposed to empathize with the characters and their predicament: they are once-innocent victims of a depraved, dangerous, and corrupt society turned not-so-innocent from the hardships of life. But, as much as I admire Bacigalupi for what he's done, not yielding to literary conventions of having sympathetic main characters, well... that is a literary convention that I like in my books.
THE DROWNED CITIES moves at a slow pace, but is mesmerizing in terms of how it imagines the future. Unlike the majority of YA dystopias published these days, Bacigalupi's vision of the future unsettles and upsets me precisely because it forces us to admit that there are a lot of things wrong in our current world that could very well make the future what Bacigalupi imagines.
Is THE DROWNED CITIES amazing? Yes. Should people read it as an example of what a dystopian should be like, as well as to reflect on the many things we should address in our world in order to prevent such a future from happening? Yes. Did I like it? Not quite. But it's one of those cases where that's okay.
Cover discussion: Hmm. Not bad. I like the dystopian vision of a future Washington, DC--although I admit that when I was reading the book, I had no idea it was set in DC until more than halfway through the book. I'm a little confused about whether those eyes are supposed to belong to Mahlia, though. Do they...well, do they look Asian to you?
Little, Brown / May 1, 2012 / Hardcover / 448pp. / $17.99
e-galley received for review from publisher and NetGalley.