City of Screams by John Brindley

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City of Screams by John Brindley

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: An exciting future catastrophe novel set in a world in which evolution has accelerated exponentially. It's pacy but it also gives pause for thought and it sets itself firmly against religious fundamentalism.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: July 2008
Publisher: Orion
ISBN: 1842556908

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It's been some years since Ash broke free of the compound on ASP Island and established a new society in which rodents could exist cooperatively with raptors and agles. Evolution has continued apace, and the first flier, Laura, has descendants with beautiful and fully-formed wings. They are known as air agles. Phoenix, however, despite her name, is a ground agle who wishes she were an air agle. She's in love with Gabriel, whose advanced flying skills and piercing eyesight has made him one of the first archangels. Phoenix wants to be an air agle so much that she despises her heavy body and makes herself sick after every meal.

Such personal ambitions are buried, though, when the Adults arrive. The adults bring weapons and cruelty and intolerance. They upset the delicate balance in ASP Island's society and soon the young male raptors are threatening ground and air agles alike. The few remaining rodents are in danger too. But the archangels are in most danger of all because the violent adults have also brought with them their religion. Their god, Genome, views fliers as abominations, a stain on the world's six-thousand-year history, and they must be obliterated. With Gabriel and his friends incarcerated, it's up to Phoenix and her rodent foster sister, Totally, to save ASP Island.

The first book in this series dealt with the immediate aftermath of a future world in which genetic experiments have created the acceleration of mutations and evolution is moving at a frightening pace. It was pacy and exciting, with great thematic depth and gave its young readers great pause for thought. This sequel doesn't simply match up; it stands on the shoulders of the first book, building further on these important issues whilst retaining the adrenalin-fuelled action narrative.

This time around, the notion of God as an expression of the nature of the universe is further explored, against a backdrop of religious fundamentalism. Adults, as the inhabitants of ASP Island know these particular mutated humans, follow a belief system similar to that of extreme fundamentalist Christians. They dismiss evolution - despite the evidence of the world around them - and believe in the literal word of their "bible". They believe in salvation and an afterlife and in the annihilation of anyone or anything who doesn't believe or is different to them. They devastate the environment wherever they go and they don't shrink at torture or murder; they revel in it.

Phoenix, like Ash in the first novel, is a strong and determined central character. She never gives up, even in the face of terrible danger, and she resists the ultimate temptation - to answer violence with violence. The action rattles along at a pace that drags the reader along - even as an adult, I didn't put this book down until I'd reached the very last page. And yet there's so much to think about, I was very slow to pick up the next book in my review pile.

I hope we see more books about ASP Island from Brindley. This is an intelligent follow up that doesn't try to follow on immediately from its predecessor. It thinks a little bit more deeply than that. The most sophisticated of older readers might find the depiction of the Adult fundamentalism a little heavy-handed, but I can't think of a single other nit I could pick.


My thanks to the nice people at Orion for sending the book.

Readers can find an alternative take on evolution in Ancient Appetites by Oisin McGann, while more sophisticated readers might enjoy The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness or Blood Crime by John Brindley.

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