Monday, May 21, 2012

Book Review: The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi

Mahlia and Mouse are war maggots - orphans left behind when the Chinese peacekeepers gave up and pulled out of The Drowned Cities, abandoning the wreck of a city to the warlords.  Fleeing the Drowned Cities in the violent aftermath of the takeover, Mahlia was caught by the soldier boys of the Army of God.  She was lucky - they only took her right hand before Mouse rescued her.  Together ever since, they found refuge with Doctor Mahfouz in a tiny village in the jungle a few days' walk from the Drowned Cities.

Tool (who you may remember from the Printz-award winning Shipbreaker) is a creature of war.  Genetically engineered with the DNA of hyena, dog, panther, and human, he is a terrifying, nearly invincible giant of menacing strength manufactured for two things - loyalty to his master and an indomitable will to survive and war another day.  But Tool is an enigma - he has no master.  After escaping the fighting rings of United Patriot Front leader Colonel Stern, Tool is pursued into the jungle by a squadron of the Colonel's soldier boys.  Hiding deep in a swampy pool, Tool barely escapes with his life from the jaws of an enormous monster alligator.

When Sergeant Ocho and his team of boy soldiers show up in Mahlia's village on their search for Tool,  what they don't know is that she and Mouse have discovered Tool, half-dead from his epic battle with the alligator, in the jungle - and Mouse is being held prisoner under threat of death, unless Mahlia can bring Tool the medicine he needs to heal.  Frantic, Mahlia is forced instead to remain in the village and stitch the sergeant up from his own battle with Tool.  Fierce, tough, and resourceful, Mahlia finds a way to save Mouse - only to have Mouse recruited by force into the army.  Suddenly, Tool is her only ally.  Desperate to save her best friend, Mahlia knows the only way to get him back is to ask for Tool's help and follow the soldiers through the jungle and back into the Drowned Cities.

This book was just... whoa.  Dark, brutal, and very, very violent, there are only a few moments of goodness that break through the dark horror of humans at war in this intense read - but set against the grim horror of Mahlia and Mouse's war-torn world, those moments are blindingly bright.  Make no mistake -this is one scary book.  Set in the not-too-distant future world of global warming and rising seas, the streets of a ruined Washington D.C. are flooded with filthy water, debris, bullets, scavengers, the starving and desperate, and children killing children in a war whose purpose has been long ago forgotten.  Why is this so terrifying?  Because the world of child soldiers and short lives filled with fear, unending violence and vengeful brutality is very, very real in the Middle East and Africa right now.  A powerful work for older teens, this one is for anyone who read Shipbreaker or thought Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking series was amazing.

(Who had to take a break after this one to read some lighter chick lit!  Hello, Meg Cabot and Sarah Dessen)

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