Once again Paolo Bacigalupi delivers a superbly written YA novel. Breathtaking. Brutal. Significant.
This book has teeth and will chew on you like a coywolv with a bone.
Here's an early description of Tool: Though it walked like a man, when it bared its teeth, tiger fangs showed, and when it pricked up its ears, a jackal's ears listened, and when it sniffed the air, a bloodhound's nose scented. The soldier had seen it fight in the ring enough times to know that he would rather face a dozen men with machetes than this hurricane of slaughter.
This story is harsh, if you haven't realized that already, here is a snippet of a wounded warboy talking to the main character, a mixed-race girl named Mahlia: Gold-flecked eyes studied her, unblinking. "Got to learn quick if you want to stay alive. Drowned Cities eats stupid for breakfast." He straightened, pushing himself up in bed, wincing. "'Spect you know that, though. I ain't seen a cast-off in more than a year. Last time I saw a girl like you, LT had her head on a stick."
The character development, dialogue, setting and world-building are all well done. Add that to issues raised about the choices people make when faced with war (Do you charge into danger to save a friend? Do you do whatever it takes to survive? Do you allow lines to blur between right and wrong?), and this book has import.
I also want to acknowledge Jean Craighead George, who died this week. She was 92 and had written more than one hundred books, including the Newbery-winner Julie of the Wolves, which transported its readers (young and older) into the life of a wolf pack on the tundra.
It is such a beautiful and important book that I've been disturbed by people who routinely try to ban it from school libraries because the young girl protagonist flees to the tundra after an arranged marriage leads to a sexual assault. There is nothing graphic about the scene. Sometimes bad things happen. What is important is how people deal with them, and Ms. George gave Julie the tools and smarts to save herself.
Through her many books, she brought the wonder of nature into our lives, and I, for one, am grateful.
The New York Times wrote a wonderful tribute to her.