Review: The Drowned Cities (Ship Breaker 2)

By Paolo Bacigalupi

Atom Books, out now

In the midst of war, being young doesn’t mean you’re a child – or can make childish decisions…

A companion volume to Ship Breaker – as in, set in the same place, but not a direct sequel – The Drowned Cities is a harsh book that, like its predecessor, examines questions of loyalty and friendship in an environment where selfishness often needs to be the default setting simply to survive.

Tool, the genetically modified half-man from Ship Breaker, reappears, but you really don’t need to know anything about his earlier appearance to understand what – and more importantly, who – he is. The story centres around two youngsters, Mouse and Mahlia, and for the most part we see the world through their eyes – a world that seems very distant from our own, yet has horrible echoes of children armies in Africa, forced to grow up long before their time. Bacigalupi gets inside their heads and reveals the insecurities that remain there.

Some reviews of this have commented on the way that one of the characters’ names changes partway through the book then back again “for no reason” – which is missing one of the fundamental points Bacigalupi is making. We adopt names and personas to fit our surroundings, and when we realise that we don’t want to be a part of something any more, we revert to previous behaviours. The change of name demonstrates that – although it’s interesting that another character towards the end of the book maintains the name by which we know him, even though he appears to have changed as a result of the climactic events.

Verdict: Not an easy book to read, this will hopefully raise some questions in its target audience’s minds.  7/10

Paul Simpson

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