drowned cities

The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi

Mahlia and Mouse survive in the war-torn area near the Drowned Cities, living a hunger and danger filled life dodging soldiers from both sides of the war.  But you can only hide and dodge for so long, Mouse gets caught by a wounded half-man who was bioengineered solely for war, named Tool.  Tool holds Mouse hostage until Mahlia brings drugs to heal him.  Even that is not easy, because a squad of soldier boys, injured by Tool, is there demanding the same drugs that Mahlia needs to free Mouse. Things do not go as planned.  Soon their village is in flames, Mouse is captured by the soldier boys, and Mahlia has lost everything.  Now it is up to her to decide whether she is just going to go on hiding or take an impossible chance and head for the Drowned Cities.

The book is like a strong dark current that submerges the reader, pulling you deeper and deeper into the novel.  At times, the tension and horror gets to be overwhelming, and I would have to put the book down and take some deep breaths in the sun before diving right back into the darkness.  Bacigalupi writes with an amazing clarity and strength.  Here he tackles war from the point of view of children who are caught in a situation not of their making, but who will do almost anything to survive.  The issue of child soldiers is at the heart of this story, but it also touches on war itself and the atrocities that come along with it on both sides.

Happily, there is also a golden and true heart at the center of this story.  It comes from its three main characters: Mahlia, Mouse and Tool.  All three are entwined in the war and yet somehow apart from it too.  Their story is one of dedication, friendship, and loyalty.  All things that are far too rare in the rest of this dark world.  Against that darkness, the three shine.

If you enjoyed Ship Breaker, this second book returns to the same setting but features different characters.  It’s an amazing feat to create a sequel just as good as the first, and Bacigalupi achieves that here.  Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from library copy.