Monday, 7 May 2012

review: The Drowned Cities

by Paolo Bacigalupi
Little, Brown BFYR, May 1 2012
young adult post-apocalyptic
ARC received from publisher (thank you!! *tries not to squeal*)

Mahlia survived her father's abandoning her family; she survived having her right hand cut off; she survived, period, long enough to meet Mouse and make it out of the Drowned Cities and into Doctor Mahfouz's care. She'll survive the soldiers burning down her village, and taking Mouse away from her, too... even if it means teaming up with the half-man Tool and travelling back into the horrific depths of the Drowned Cities to get him back.
The cover:

Gotta say, at first sight that title font did not appeal. But when you take a close look at the image behind, wow. Love the overall blue tint, the tropical touch, the path leading away, the ramshackle buildings and the crow. The author name font is great, too.

The book:


*clears throat* Now that I've got that out of my system, we can proceed normally. Or as normally as such a good book will allow.

The Drowned Cities throws us back into Paolo Bacigalupi's run-down world, and with Bacigalupi taking his time to place vivid sensory details like gems throughout his storytelling... what a rich world it is. The jungle terrors, the village and homes, the warfare within the cityscape are real and luscious setdrops to the action, which somehow doesn't get slowed down by the description.

The multiple points of view keep the pacing on a roll where the potential for a slow middle exists; the third-person narratives work seamlessly despite the multitude of them. Wise choices are made in regards to which characters we inhabit, and we're given insight to Mahlia's determination and her backstory, Ocho's remaining humanity and Tool's all-around intelligent and brutal awesomeness.

An excellent build-up leads us to a confrontation that, for once, doesn't last a single chapter, like so many YA climaxes tend to. Lingering at the doom of our protags helps make the villain more truly evil; it also provides more time for satisfyingly strong comebacks. And all the while, the themes of war -- why do we fight? Whom do we fight against, truly? -- and belonging -- does Tool belong to a master if he was made that way? Once Mouse is in the army, who does he belong to then? -- resonate in almost menacing, lurking undertones, provoking thought and demanding question in a way to make you ponder.

It's a smart book, The Drowned Cities is. Entirely satisfying and steadily thrilling -- no better combination have I read yet.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5