The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a companion novel to Shipbreakers, and is set in the same “world” but on a different continent. While the first was in the Gulf area, this one takes place in D.C., in what is now known as the “Drowned Cities.” The waters rose, the city flooded during climate change, and gradually enough political infighting tore the place apart, and various war lords and their militias sprung up and took over, lost and retook parts of the city. The Chinese came in for a decade, as peacekeepers, trying to get them to stop fighting, and cracking down on insurgents, but eventually they gave up and left, and the mixed race kids and the sympathizers were rounded up and either forced into slave labour, had body parts cut off, or were killed outright. One of them, a child named Mahlia, whose father had been a peacekeeper, and her mother an American, was left behind when the peacekeeper ships left. A lot of technology in this dystopian environment has been lost, although some has been retained by China, and a couple of the bigger cities, like Boston and New York. But much of the southern areas have been turned into swampland, and scavenging is the way of life. Mahlia fights her way out of the Drowned Cities after her mother is taken away, but then is caught by one of the militias, the Army of God, who hate all things Chinese, and they chop off her right hand. About to chop off her left, something draws their attention away, and she is is able to escape. It is Mouse, a farm boy coming in to one of the towns to try and find shelter after his farm was overrun. They hide from the soldiers and eventually are found by a doctor from a nearby village who bandages her stump, and takes them in, much to the villagers dismay, who believe that she is cursed. But she learns valuable medical training from the doctor, and finds a place there. He tries to teach her to be passive and to turn the other cheek to the insults hurled her way, but she is pure “Drowned Cities” and it’s in her blood to not take things lying down but to fight back. It’s what the Chinese gave up on and found so distasteful – the idea that every insult must be answered with a bigger one; every hurt with a larger hurt, until everything is gone. Many of the militia would rather see their ex-nation’s capitol be destroyed than allow anyone else to occupy it, even though they were all just Americans once. The stroy is of Mahlia, Mouse and a half-man,an augment named Tool, as they try and find a new place in this crazy world. Very bleak, grim, it’s different from his other books in that this one is more violent, and the people are all less easy to like. Mahlia has a chip on her shoulder as big as a house, and Mouse is stupid – conflicted beyond reason. The soldiers are mostly children, as Mouse is, and they are taught from a young age to kill, maim, rape, etc. Sort of a parable on our political infighting, and the child armies of the terrorists, it is a frightening glimpse at anarchy. But hope is at the end. A good book, but the bleakness made me keep it at four stars. That and Mahlia’s pig-headedness and contradictory ways. If you are going to do something, and damn the consequences, then stick with it, or all those people were hurt in vain. Don’t become lost in guilt and remorse.
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