Emily May's Reviews > The Drowned Cities

The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi
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May 11, 12

bookshelves: young-adult, dystopia-utopia, 2012, fave-ya
Recommended to Emily May by: Tatiana, Catie
Read from May 04 to 09, 2012


4.5
Sometimes a book is just all that much better for being so disgustingly horrible. For not glossing over the gruesome details, for keeping the reader hooked in wide-eyed horror. This is that kind of book. The author doesn't waste his time on niceties, this story's about the harsh realities of survival and the unfortunate lengths that people have to go to in order to just stay alive. This book is nasty and gritty, and yet none of the violence and gore felt gratuitous, and above all else Paolo Bacigalupi is actually an incredible writer.

For those of you - like me - who felt that Ship Breaker was a little bit too much of a "boy book", despite being impressed by the writing and the imagery, I want to let you know that you should have no such concerns about The Drowned Cities. Not only is this a much better book than its predecessor, it has a broader reach. This, in my opinion, is about so much more than high-action scenes to please teen male readers, there are strong messages about war and loyalty and survival.

The story mainly focuses on three individuals, Mahlia, her companion Mouse, and a genetically engineered soldier which combines parts of various animals and human DNA to make the ultimate killing machine (called Tool). War plays a big part in this book, it is what threatens the safety of the characters, what forces them on, what challenges them to make a number of big decisions. Mahlia, with only a stump at the end of her right arm, is already a victim of this war. A war that is a lot more familiar to humanity than most of us would like to think.

To digress slightly, tomorrow I will be taking an exam in international relations and one of the key topics is what we call "new wars". These are a certain type of wars that have been on the rise for the last couple of decades, the kind that sees new technology creating cheap and light weaponry that can be handled by children. Some of these children are five years old when they are recruited and forced to kill or be killed. The relevance? Mahlia and Mouse are children also caught up in a war, a war where the "soldier boys" are nothing but children with attitudes and big guns. Children who've been brainwashed into seeking cruelty and violence - because their only other option was to become a victim. The Drowned Cities may seem to be a futuristic/dystopian novel, but the war that the characters are facing is nothing that hasn't already happened in our world, nothing that isn't happening right now.

This is a very sad, honest tale of war, with particular emphasis on the effect it has on children. There are many questions being asked here that I think Paolo Bacigalupi wants us to seriously consider. It is so easy to forget that children are being forced into this kind of life through fear, not in a different world or dimension, not in a possible future, but right now across the globe. This is a much deeper and thought-provoking book than I imagined and I know I'll be thinking about it for quite some time.
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Comments (showing 1-23 of 23) (23 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

did you like Ship Breaker Emily. I don't remember


Emily May I gave it 3 stars. I didn't dislike it but I found it to be too much of a "boy book". However, my trusty goodreads friends have informed me that this is both better and more girl-friendly. We shall see :)


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

hmmm, now I'm more interested. i felt the same way about Ship Breaker, but i didnt finish it. Look forward to your thoughts on this.


Tatiana 5 years old?!@.@ I didn't know it was this bad.


Emily May It's disgusting. It tends to be kids that have been orphaned during the wars that are just picked up off the street.


message 6: by Kyle (new) - added it

Kyle Excellent review! Buying this one ASAP, since I saw signed copies at my bookstore. :)


message 7: by Kyle (new) - added it

Kyle Emily wrote: "It's disgusting. It tends to be kids that have been orphaned during the wars that are just picked up off the street."

Monsters such as these just make my skin crawl. *Shivers*


Kelli Lee And happening right now is precisely right, which is why this book is so up my alley. Only problem is that I was shied away from many a meh review with Ship Breaker. But as per usual, Emily, great review, and you've convinced me to take the plunge with this series.


message 9: by Kyle (new) - added it

Kyle Kelly wrote: "And happening right now is precisely right, which is why this book is so up my alley. Only problem is that I was shied away from many a meh review with Ship Breaker. But as per usual, Emily, great ..."

Not sure if this is very accurate since I haven't started the series yet either (probably after Fall for Anything which I'm reading after Unwind), but if I'm correct, you can read The Drowned Cities before or after Ship Breaker, since they're really just set in the same world with a completely different story (assuming I'm correct).


Kelli Lee Oh, that's good to hear, Kyle. Then I'll have to skip Ship Breaker and dive right in to this one. Thanks. :)


Emily May Thanks Kelly and Kyle! And yes, you don't have to read Ship Breaker to understand what's going on, the stories are completely unrelated apart from the setting.


message 12: by Jim (new)

Jim Wonderful review, and I am very happy to see your praise of this book!

I very much admire the talents of Bacigalupi, but I have also seen the troubling elements in his work. It sounds as though he is speaking with a more mature but still electrifying voice, and that could be a wonderful thing.


Emily May It is, Jim! Thank you and I cannot recommend this book enough.


message 14: by Jim (new)

Jim That sounds incredible, Emily! Thank you, and I will be getting to this one very soon after reading your review and comments!:)


Bookphile This us an excellent review, and I wholeheartedly agree. This is not an easy book to read, but it is extremely well-written and deals with some critical topics. I think everyone should read this book and think very critically about war and the reality if child soldiers in our world. No one should be ignorant of it, and no one should be apathetic.


message 16: by jennifer (new)

jennifer does it have nailer from ship breaker in it?


Emily May No, I'm pretty sure it doesn't. Not 100% because it's been a while :)


message 18: by Dgm (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dgm I agree that this book was good, but I don't think it was solely because it was gruesome. It kept me constantly on the edge of my seat because I didn't know who was going to die next, or what was going to attack someone next.


message 19: by Ajc (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ajc "For not glossing over the gruesome details, for keeping the reader hooked in wide-eyed horror."

I agree that this made the book great. Instead of being bored by the details, I would never want to put this book down.


V.a.m. I haven't heard of "new wars" before, or well at least the proper terminology for this kind of warfare, but it is an awesome connection to the book. I don't understand though how Ship Breaker book is a too much of a "boy's book," yet this book is better and what more girly? Reading this book, I didn't really think that this was much of a girly novel personally. But I did love your post as it does a perfect job of connecting this book to the real world, as its intentions probably were.


Emily May Thank you. I wouldn't say this is a girly novel either, more "gender neutral" was what I meant to say. I just think the potential discussions this book opens about the nature of war and loyalty are more universally appealing.


message 22: by A. (new) - rated it 5 stars

A. S. I have read both Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities, and I also think that The Drowned Cities is a much better book.


C.a.c. "Children with attitudes and big guns." It is very true that the children get the idea that they are better than everyone else when they get a big gun. I also agree with you that "the children are being forced into this kind of life through fear." You can tell they don't want to fight, but they feel they have to.


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