The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi

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The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ed Prior
Reviewed by Ed Prior
Summary: A master-class in how to write a young adult book that neither preaches, nor patronises, while still managing to carry a powerful message about the dangers of environmental apathy and the circle of violence.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 437 Date: May 2012
Publisher: Atom
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781907411113

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The best thing about Paolo Bacigalupi's latest young adult novel is that you almost certainly wouldn't realise it was intended for a younger audience unless someone pointed it out to you. The Drowned Cities may lack the sex, swearing and amoral protagonists of his award-winning adult novel 'The Windup Girl, but it has all the needle-sharp description, complex world-building and brilliant characters that have rapidly made a name for Bacigalupi as one of this centuries preeminent science-fiction writers.

The story throws together Mahlia, the mutilated and abandoned bastard daughter of a hated Chinese peacekeeper, and her best friend, war orphan Mouse, with Tool, a genetically engineered human-animal hybrid bred for war. The three soon come into conflict with a bunch of war boys, child soldiers loyal to one of the many factions now fighting over the collapsed, water-logged remnants of the USA. All must make hard choices about what is more important, loyalty or survival.

Bacigalupi bring to life this post-civilization setting with vivid descriptions and brilliantly observed characters full of internal and external conflict. This is a world that is frighteningly believable, in which we see the possible consequences of the human-caused climate change of the present day, overlaid with the kind of sweeping savagery and petty rivalries only too familiar from parts of modern-day Africa and South-East Asia.

The Drowned Cities of the title are a brutal setting for a dark novel; violence and death punctuate the narrative with a casualness that painfully illustrates the dehumanising effect of living in a warzone. With its themes of violence, child soldiering and ecological disaster some might question this book's suitability for the young adult market, but The Drowned Cities carries an important message for young and old alike, that violence spawns violence and survival at the cost of one's humanity is not enough. More importantly, this is a book teenagers should read, as it reflects exactly the lives already being lived by their counterparts in many other parts of the world.

But above all this is a truly enthralling story, with skilfully drawn, all-too-human characters you can really care about. The Drowned Cities had me up way past my bedtime, unable to resist reading just one more chapter and then just one more over and over until the whole book was finished. With this powerful, captivating novel, Paolo Bacigalupi has written the kind of book I wish I'd been able to read as a teenager. I'm really glad I've had the chance to read it now.

If this book appeals then we think you might also enjoy The Windup Girl also by Paolo Bacigalupi and Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve.

Buy The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi at

Buy The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi at


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