Steph Su's Reviews > The Drowned Cities

The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi
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's review
Apr 18, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: dystopian, poc
Read from May 13 to 24, 2012

This is very clearly one of those “it’s not you, it’s me” situations. Bacigalupi is a great writer. He can come up with a unique dystopian premise, lay it out in all its entirety, and still proceed to shock readers with the depth of emotions he can conjure up for the characters and their predicaments. A less squeamish reader would probably appreciate the brilliance and magnitude of this impressive story. But I squirm over stories about featuring war, violence, and heartless characters.

It is an intriguing feature of Ship Breaker, and now THE DROWNED CITIES, that I don't think readers are ever supposed to like the main characters very much. They're not lovable: a hard childhood has taught Mahlia to be humorless and untrusting, while Mouse, in comparison, is scrawny and cowardly. I guess we're supposed to empathize with the characters and their predicament: they are once-innocent victims of a depraved, dangerous, and corrupt society turned not-so-innocent from the hardships of life. But, as much as I admire Bacigalupi for what he's done, not yielding to literary conventions of having sympathetic main characters, well... that is a literary convention that I like in my books.

THE DROWNED CITIES moves at a slow pace, but is mesmerizing in terms of how it imagines the future. Unlike the majority of YA dystopias published these days, Bacigalupi's vision of the future unsettles and upsets me precisely because it forces us to admit that there are a lot of things wrong in our current world that could very well make the future what Bacigalupi imagines.

Is THE DROWNED CITIES amazing? Yes. Should people read it as an example of what a dystopian should be like, as well as to reflect on the many things we should address in our world in order to prevent such a future from happening? Yes. Did I like it? Not quite. But it's one of those cases where that's okay.
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Reading Progress

17.0% "Bleh. Not connecting with any of the characters, and I feel a bit uncomfortable with the story's treatment of future China."
44.0% "Ok, it got a lot better. Action!!!"
54.0% "I have a feeling this is going to get a lot worse before things can get better."
61.0% "Oh, Mouse."
100.0% "Better than Ship Breaker? Yes. Did I love it? Ummmm...."
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