Review of THE DROWNED CITIES by Paolo Bacigalupi
Little Brown, May 2012
When the sea levels began to rise, some countries united. Others, including the United States, broke apart. So, American cities flooded and, as they did, warlords from one political party or another armed their followers and fought each other in an attempt to assert their rule. For a time, Chinese peacekeepers tried to protect civilians and end the conflict but eventually they returned home leaving the drowned cities, their halfbreed children, and the warlord factions to continue to fight.
Half-Chinese Mahlia was one of those left behind when the Chinese retreated. She barely survived the orgy of looting and murder that followed the Chinese exit and now assists one of the few doctors left in the drowned cities. But when warlord soldiers come looking for an escaped hybrid man-beast warrior, Mahlia realizes she hasn’t gotten away at all. The soldier-boys will always come looking and she’ll always be their victim if she doesn’t fight back. Mahlia forms an unlikely alliance with Tool, the hybrid warrior. Together they enter the heart of the drowned city looking for Mahlia’s long-time partner and friend, Mouse.
Author Paolo Bacigalupi (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of speculative fiction by Bacigalupi) is a master of near-future extrapolation. In THE DROWNED CITIES, he looks not only at the impact of global warning but also the effect of America’s increasingly polarized society where disagreement quickly is labeled treason and where denial often trumps problem-solving. Americans aren’t used to the idea that problems of failed states, of child-soldiers, of foreign peacekeepers might actually happen here at home rather than in foreign lands with foreign religions. In THE DROWNED CITIES, Bacigalupi moved a step beyond simple speculation to deliver compelling characters. Mahlia is torn between her desire to live and her recognition that her decisions result in destruction for others. The characters got me emotionally connected with the story and make this book work.
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