The Drowned Cities
by Paolo Bacigalupi
15 and up
Reviewed by Melissa
We read the award-winning Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi, with the middle school book club at Buena Vista in December of 2011, and the companion book, The Drowned Cities, came out just in time for Henry, Erica, Susie, Anarda and me to meet Mr. Bacigalupi at the American Library Association convention in June, and buy a hardcover copy of his book (autographed) for just $5, which made us very happy. I was also happy when I read the book (although that is not the mood invoked by the plot, but rather just the fact that I thought it was a good read!). I liked the first one, and I think I liked the second one even better. The book separately follows both a new character (Mahlia) and someone we met in the first book (Tool) and also brings them together for large parts of the story.
Mahlia is a great character--a mixed-race, mixed-culture child of an American woman and a Chinese Peacekeeper--a high-level official sent from China to get and keep the warring city-states of the former United States under control. Mahlia's story is that of most children born of war and occupation: When her powerful father goes back to China, she and her mother are left behind, hoping he will take care of them, but with ever-diminishing expectations as time passes, bad things happen, and it becomes clear he isn't coming back. Mahlia and her friend Mouse eventually find themselves living quietly and carefully under the radar between warring bands of sociopathic child soldiers, protected by the region's doctor, and this is where they come into contact with Tool.
If you remember him from the first book, Tool is a genetically engineered fighting machine, created to be both the perfect soldier and the perfect weapon. Others of his kind are somehow tied emotionally to their war leaders, and when they find themselves on their own, they die or take their own lives, but Tool has somehow evolved beyond this dependency and is now on his own, trying to escape death at his creators' hands and disappear off their radar.
Unfortunately for him, Mahlia has other ideas. She sees him as a way to solve a lot of her problems and get her out of her terrible situation. Her plans don't go too well, though, and there is a lot of effort, anguish, and loss before they come to a resolution at the end of the book.
Here's an interesting article, written by Caragh O'Brien (Birth Marked, Prized, Promised), about the difficulty of writing "the second book," in which she interviews Patrick Ness and Paolo Bacigalupi, and discusses with them Ness's Chaos Walking trilogy and Bacigalupi's two books, as well as remarking on her process to complete her own trilogy.
As for Bacigalupi, the next YA book in the works is a present-day political thriller/crime caper called The Doubt Factory.