Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Series: Ship Breaker #2
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 1, 2012
Um, where do I even start with this one? The Drowned Cities was one of the most intense and brutal stories I think I've ever read. This was one of those books that pretty much grabbed hold of me from the first few pages and left me completely breathless by the end-- it was a gripping and fast-paced story set in a war-torn world of both hope and desperation, and everything about it pushed the boundaries of YA fiction. Absolutely. Insane.
The story is set in a war-torn, post-apocalyptic world where society has basically broken down into decentralized rebel groups that live to kill each other off. Neither side ever really gains an advantage, and the resulting stalemate between these war groups has led to the world of The Drowned Cities-- crumbling ruins of a once productive civilization, now the center of hatred and death. (I know, real uplifting right??) But even though this wasn't exactly a cheerful read, I definitely appreciated the story because it was clearly well-thought out and even addressed what is happening in other areas of the world today. With it's rebel troops made up of soldier boys, and names like Army of God and the United Patriot Front, I was reminded of the political turmoil going on in Africa and other Third World countries. Mahlia and Mouse, the two main characters in this book, had to live out the realities of civil war and exploitation of children-- only in the book they face these scenarios in a nightmarish future version of America. The result was pretty terrifying, but also not too difficult to imagine...
Mahlia was an awesome main female character. And she was tough as nails. I'd even say that she was possibly tougher than Katniss, no joke. Her ability to fight in a world that is literally out to rip her to shreds and not give up when the odds are impossibly stacked against her was reason enough to read this book to the end. It was a constant struggle for her to not only survive, but also to not become like the monsters she's running from-- to maintain her humanity in a completely inhuman world. Katniss of course also had similar struggles, but there was something more desperate about Mahlia's situation. She's an orphan with no family, and her only one true friend becomes lost to the enemy, so the fact that she was still willing to fight and work up the courage to try and escape to safety and freedom was just mind-boggling! Mahlia's story was heart-breaking, but it was always laced with hope, which definitely kept me reading to the end.
I do have to warn everyone-- this was one extremely gory book-- the brutality of The Drowned Cities is not even remotely censored, and there were many scenes that left me cringing with how gruesome the descriptions were. I almost had to put it away at certain parts, to be perfectly honest. However, I think that a lot of the more horrific and grisly scenes were meant to really show the breakdown in society and how it had reverted to a barbarous place where there is a fine line between remaining human and becoming no better than an animal. The world-building-- although sometimes difficult to read about-- was complete, and vividly memorable.
As much as I can appreciate The Drowned Cities for its raw and uncensored portrayal of a post-apocalyptic world and its fully-developed characters, I have to admit that I didn't like it quite as much as I did Ship Breaker. It's only my personal preference, but I just enjoyed the world-building, characters, and story more in Ship Breaker than in this second YA book by Bacigalupi. However, I am definitely glad that I read this one, because it was a very refreshing break from the typical YA genres I read, and it really took risks and stepped outside the boundaries of what we usually expect from YA books. Definitely not for the faint at heart, I would recommend this book if you're looking for something a little more serious and a lot more uncensored than your typical YA... altogether, this was an unforgettable book, and absolutely worth checking out!
I do like this book cover-- I think it really captures the dark grittiness and just the whole oppressive and dismal world of The Drowned Cities. I also really like how you can see Mahlia's eyes, hardened and defiant, at the top. This is one of those books that I would stop to check out just because it is so different from other YA covers with swooning female models or brighter colors, and I think that after reading the story, I like it even more.
Check it out!