Sunday, March 17, 2013

Halfway through THE DROWNED CITIES and loving it

Before I get to the excellent book I’m currently reading, here’s some news on books I will be reading:

My friend Cole Gibsen just released SENSHI, the sequel to her debut novel, KATANA.  I haven’t had a chance to read SENSHI yet, but KATNA was a fun read—very much like a novelized samurai comic.  You can find more about Cole and her books at:

YA Fusion’s own Katie McGarry is on the verge of releasing CROSSING THE LINE, an e-book story about Lila from PUSHING THE LIMITS.  I haven’t read a word of this story, so it’ll be a treat to see what Katie cooked up in the midst of her other writing.  You can see more at:

And now to my current fascination, Paolo Bacigalupi’s THE DROWNED CITIES.  The publisher, LB Teen, describes the story as:

This thrilling companion to Paolo Bacigalupi's Michael L. Printz Award winner Ship Breaker is a haunting and powerful story of loyalty, survival, and heart-pounding adventure.

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.

To that description, I would add that THE DROWNED CITIES is a well plotted, character driven story that’s rich in detail and rides on a strong moral undertone.

Mr. Bacigalupi’s first YA, SHIP BREAKER, is a Printz Award winner, so you don’t need me to tell you it’s good.  But if SHIP BREAKER is good, THE DROWNED CITIES is great.  It’s as if SHIP BREAKER got a whole new dimension.  The characters are deeper, the plotting is more involved, the writing is richer with texture and detail.  The story is relentless, too, piling war horror on top of war horror—not to sensationalize violence, but to drive the story forward and the reader deeper.

For comparison, the writing feels very William Gibson cyberpunk (maybe COUNT ZERO INTERRUPT because of its teen protagonist), while the story brings to mind Neal Stephenson’s THE DIAMOND AGE: OR, A YOUNG LADY’S ILLUSTRATED PRIMER because of its tribal warring and female heroine.  I’m also reminded of the grittiest of Terry Pratchett’s work, such as the grim reality underlying NATION or his Tiffany Aching stories.  I do not say this to suggest copying, but to underline the quality of the read.

If you’ve noted that I just listed a mix of adult and YA books, that’s no accident.  THE DROWNED CITIES is definitely a mature read.  I’m not saying kids can’t handle it, I’m saying it’s as grizzly as a story of child soldiers and war must be.  At the same time, it has a strong moral undertone that forces the reader to question the costs of the choices we make as individuals and as a country.

Wish me well with the second half, and if you have suggestions for a similar read, I’d love to hear them,


Kristin Lenz said...

Ship Breaker has been on my reading list for awhile, but I keep putting off. I try to read the Printz winners every year and I know it's going to be good, but it seems like one of those books you need to be in the right mood for. It fascinates me how dystopian, fantasy, and SF writers can explore our real world current concerns, especially war, and the moral undertone that you mentioned. I would say Kristen Simmons did this in Article 5, as well as Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone and especially Days of Blood and Starlight.

Kurt Hampe said...

Kristin, thanks for the reading suggestions and comment. I finished THE DROWNED CITIES today and continue to recommend it.

You said: "It fascinates me how dystopian, fantasy, and SF writers can explore our real world current concerns"

Perhaps because Speculative Fiction steps outside reality, it can examine ours truths in greater detail.

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