Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Drowning in an Ugly World
When the world falls apart, the power struggle to gobble up the pieces will get ugly. From religious radicals to pseudo-militaries who are nothing more than vicious men with weapons, no one will be safe from the greed and lack of humanity, especially the innocent. To the world at large, they have become the weak to be consumed and disposed of. In The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi, the world couldn't get much uglier.
Mahlia's life has never been easy, but after she was captured by soldiers and her hand was cut off, she was doomed in a world where you don't survive long if you can't take care of herself. Luckily for her, Mouse was there to save her. Now she apprentices for the doctor in their village and scrapes by with a pretty decent life: a job, a friend, and a purpose. But all that changes when a group of soldiers come searching for a wounded half-man (soldier experiments that combined men with animals to create the ultimate fighters). In their search, they hold the village hostage as they hunt, but Mahlia has a secret. She knows exactly where the half-man is. And he is holding Mouse hostage.
When Mahlia and Mouse stumbled upon the half-man who was half-dead, he still had enough rage in him to grab Mouse. Mahlia convinces him to let her get antibiotics at the village in exchange for Mouse, but the soldiers ruin her plan. Desperate Mahlia refuses to lose Mouse, but despite her best efforts, everything goes wrong. Now she is left with Tool, the half-man, and the soldiers have taken Mouse with them. Tool is the only one who knows the world outside their village, and it isn't pretty. He begrudgingly agrees to help her find her friend because if there is one thing he remembers, it is having a true pack.
First of all, you have to know that if you are reading this story thinking it is an extension of Shipbreaker, it truly isn't. It may be set in the same world, but the stories are wildly different (and frankly the setting, other than both being post-apocalyptic, are as well). There isn't much of anything to connect these stories, so I am confused as to why Bacigalupi would consider this the second book in the Shipbreaker series. Still, it was a gruesome and ugly story set in a terrifying world. One thing Bacigalupi doesn't do with his YA stories is hold anything back. They are as gritty as the world he created. That means they are also pretty violent, and if your reader isn't ready for that kind of violence, this isn't the kind of story they should read.
As for the post-apocalyptic literary world, this is a great example of loyalty and friendship in an ugly, ugly world. I liked the story, but not as much as I liked Shipbreaker. The ending of the story also wasn't my style, but it might be fine for you. I would certainly pass this story on to any number of students of mine. It would be a perfect book for a young man who struggled to find a book to hold his interest as the action stretches from the very beginning to the very end.