Bacigalupi's second book set in the world revealed by Ship Breaker is a phenomenal work of ethical reflection. Matching a strange/familiar post-apocal...moreBacigalupi's second book set in the world revealed by Ship Breaker is a phenomenal work of ethical reflection. Matching a strange/familiar post-apocalyptic world with a deftly handled, tightly-woven plot and characters excruciatingly real in their cruelty, The Drowned Cities is a novel both about and not about the current affairs that shape the global consciousness today. Bacigalupi humanizes that which has been made inhuman, from Tool's genetic predisposition to Ocho's learned behavior to Mahlia's self-interested fight for survival, giving rise to questions of autonomy and morality without theological bluster or atheistic skepticism. Bacigalupi presents things are they are in The Drowned Cities and leaves one to ponder (or not!) the moral implications.
That said, the book is also just an incredibly well-crafted story. The Drowned Cities is part coming of age and part action/suspense thriller, alternating viewpoints rapidly and introducing new sets of challenges and obstacles for the characters to overcome. The story has a vivid, easily imagined setting whilst at the same time revealing secrets about its location in fits and starts. The world is organically uncovered and slotted into the context of Ship Breaker to paint a more complete image of a setting that still asks for further exploration.
The characters are realistic and brutal, and the text is violent but not gratuitous. Tool is as compelling as he was in the first book, and Mahlia is a bright, strong lead who makes a lot of mistakes and who toes the ethical line whilst remaining loyal and straightforward and, in her way, kind. Minor and secondary characters are well-crafted and multi-dimensional, and Bacigalupi expertly portrays a world with no clear-cut right or wrong, and no real hero to root for.
The story is ultimately an uplifting one, but hard-earned. The Drowned Cities has a lot of payoff and a load of re-read value. Definitely something worth checking out.(less)
I managed to get my hands on an ARC. This review reflects that.
To me, this book was flawless: emotionally tense (so tense I was shaking at points, lit...moreI managed to get my hands on an ARC. This review reflects that.
To me, this book was flawless: emotionally tense (so tense I was shaking at points, literally forcing myself to read every word even though I really just wanted to skip ahead and make sure everything was all right), cleverly plotted (Black intertwines several different plots, some mundane and some dire, deftly - giving them all the appropriate amount of screen time and consideration), and thematically unified (the big underlying thing here is choice - every book comes down to a choice Cassel has to make). I already had Strong Feelings about this series, and I was worried that Black was going to disappoint me on some level, but she didn't, and the book itself was astoundingly wonderful. I'm blown away.
Cue the specifics (not particularly spoiler-y except in a very general way, but I figure I cut won't hurt since the book isn't even out yet.
(view spoiler)[Something that really stands out about the series as a whole is Cassel's voice as the narrator. He's a mix of self-loathing and smart-mouthed, clever, quick-witted, and knowledgeable about what he does. He's scared of himself, of who he thinks he might be, even as it comes down to the fact that he doesn't really know who he is. Even at the end of Black Heart he's still just figuring himself out, and there's something so profoundly realistic about that. Most people never figure themselves out.
Black's writing is heartbreakingly beautiful at times, humorous at others, and always deft and well-crafted. Cassel is poetic and sarcastic, and you can tell what he thinks of people just by how he looks at them (e.g Cassel spends very little time in Black Heart describing Sam, he steady best friend, whilst he spares no detail in describing Lila, the girl he's loved since forever). The writing itself is tense - Cassel is granted enough know-how and awareness to illustrate the danger of a situation, while also allowing room for the reader to be surprised.
The relationships really shine in Black Heart. Characters I really didn't care about (e.g. Barron) develop into three-dimensional individuals, while relationships between other characters (e.g. Sam and Daneca) shift drastically. Cassel's mom is humanized, and even the "villains" (or the closest thing to) are shown to be complex. Cassel and Barron have a brotherly repartee that is both organic and amusing, while Cassel struggles with his "normal" friends who don't really understand half of what he is. Most important is Cassel's relationship with Lila, which is not only shown as passionate, but also warm and comfortable.
Plot-wise the book is well structured, moving between several mysteries ranging between amateur cons at school to life-or-death political situations. The action is always moving, is always handled well - sometimes Cassel even manages to come out on top, but more often he is running around in a kind of perpetual struggle to stay on top of things. What I really, really loved was the way some plotlines were never really resolved. Once again, there's something so realistic, so tangible, about that little touch that moves these books from amazing read to something profound.
And the book is profound - as I said in the above there's an overlying theme of choice, about who one chooses to be, about the relative goodness of the choices we make. There isn't really a right or a wrong answer to Cassel's story except in the most broad kind of way, and Black Heart is all about making the right choice - that is, about making the good choice, and then after that making the best choice. The story flirts cleverly with morality, never taking a dogmatic sense, and certainly not providing much in the way of solid answers. That's a good thing, because it leaves the reader to think a whole lot about whether, in the end, Cassel was a hero, a villain, or something else entirely. (hide spoiler)]
The short version? Do yourself a favor and buy this book. If you haven't read the series, buy the whole thing. It's well worth it.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Oryx and Crake was my favorite book from the moment I first read it – the writing is gorgeous, the story is well-paced, and the characters are vivid a...moreOryx and Crake was my favorite book from the moment I first read it – the writing is gorgeous, the story is well-paced, and the characters are vivid and flawed – subtle, but exceptionally well-drawn. Existing in two worlds at once, pseudo-dystopian past and post-apocalyptic present, Jimmy/Snowman is an asshole, a tragic hero, the embodiment of humanity. The flashbacks into Jimmy's life are insightful – philosophical and funny, far more Brave New World than Nineteen Eighty-Four. As for Snowman's present – it's grim and sad and heartrending but there's a thread of hope that runs contrary to the overwhelming flood of cyclical hopelessness. The world Atwood crafts is a believable one, a relevant one – many of the technological advances in the book are based off (if not directly taken from) advances happening today. The worlds – one dystopian and the other post-apocalyptic – are terrifyingly realistic.
But really, what drives the story for me is Jimmy's relationships with Oryx and Crake. There's something of a love triangle between the three – I say something because it's far more snarled than a simple love triangle. Ostensibly, Jimmy loves Oryx and Crake loves Oryx, cue melodramatic, jealousy-driven revenge drama. But, the trick is that Jimmy's love for Oryx runs along the lines of obsession, whilst Crake's assumed love for Oryx functions as a type of possession. I say assumed in Crake's case because our only indication of his love is Jimmy's inference, and the book repeatedly illustrates Jimmy's profound inability to understand Crake even remotely.
As for Oryx, we never really learn what she's thinking – partially because she's elusive, and partially because Jimmy is so busy trying to impose his idea of what she should be that he fails spectacularly to understand who she is. Indeed, throughout the narrative, Jimmy repeatedly fails to understand the two most important people in his life, which is, to me, the greatest tragedy of the book.
Crake trusts Jimmy, he cares for Jimmy (and perhaps only Jimmy). Throughout the book, Crake's desire to connect with Jimmy is constantly misinterpreted into competition and backhanded compliments – which, to be fair, is something that Crake does a fair amount of. The two characters are constantly circling one another, unable to actually connect because of they communicate too differently, they can't lose to the other, they love the same woman (maybe). They're both isolated, not only in their relationship with each other but in how they interact with their parents, with Oryx, with every sentient being that crosses into their lives.
The book gets everything right – Jimmy's casual sexism, his privilege, his self-centeredness; his empathy, his loneliness, his quiet desperation. Jimmy-as-Snowman, in turn, is half-mad and trying to survive. The two characters serve as foils and reflections of one another, both the same person and not in a world that is slowly collapsing. Oryx and Crake is rich in moral quandries and a discussion of the human condition, but it also has charismatic, likable characters, and intriguing possible future, and gorgeous writing.(less)