Engineered to Be Awesome

The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi

First Look:

The creepy eyes are a bit much, especially since I think they are supposed to be Mahlia’s eyes, and the way they’re presented here, they look like some sort of omniscient villain.  However, I love that the cover tells you information the text doesn’t!  You know from the cover that the Drowned Cities are Washington, D.C., and its suburbs, so the text doesn’t have to say it outright (which would break the narrative flow, since that’s not a name that’s in use).

Jacket Copy:

Soldier boys emerged from the darkness. Guns gleamed dully. Bullet bandoliers and scars draped their bare chests. Ugly brands scored their faces. She knew why these soldier boys had come. She knew what they sought, and she knew, too, that if they found it, her best friend would surely die. In a dark future America where violence, terror, and grief touch everyone, young refugees Mahlia and Mouse have managed to leave behind the war-torn lands of the Drowned Cities by escaping into the jungle outskirts. But when they discover a wounded half-man–a bioengineered war beast named Tool–who is being hunted by a vengeful band of soldiers, their fragile existence quickly collapses. One is taken prisoner by merciless soldier boys, and the other is faced with an impossible decision: Risk everything to save a friend, or flee to a place where freedom might finally be possible.
This thrilling companion to Paolo Bacigalupi’s highly acclaimed Ship Breaker is a haunting and powerful story of loyalty, survival, and heart-pounding adventure.


Not to my knowledge, although this book has a previously-published companion novel (Ship Breaker), which shares one character and lots of world-building in common, but each can be read separately.  The end of the novel does leave the possibility of a sequel open, but nothing’s been announced.

Worth Reading?

Not only do I wholeheartedly recommend this book, but all of Bacigalupi’s work.  I’ve read all his paper-published work, and have plans shortly to read his Kindle- and audio-only works.  I’ve never been disappointed by him.  Plus, if you ask at a bookstore counter for him, his name is super fun to say!  [Edit 6/17/2013: I recently found out that I’ve been saying his name wrong for years.  Here is the man himself pronouncing it.]  (I Cannot at this time recommend wine lollies.)

Notable Things:

Scary future that makes sense!  Although there is an abundance of dystopia/post-apocalypse in YA fiction right now, some of them…don’t really make that much sense, internally and/or externally.  (I’m looking at you, Matched series).  Bacigalupi may have made some leaps in genetic modification technology and the legality/prevalence of same, but his world makes sense for what we can currently imagine possible, and the climate change is exactly what scientists predict right now.

Survivors!  The characters are compelling and varied, from a merciful medical man, to two tough orphans, to a genetically engineered killing machine, and have all survived this awful environment in different ways.  They are all way tougher than me.

Realness.  Despite this being a book for teenagers, Bacigalupi does not skimp on the hard facts of survival, tragedy, injury…or anything else.  Of course, anyone who thinks that teen books are all sweetness and light probably hasn’t read one published in the last 7 years, but Drowned Cities  is especially brutal, without any romance or softened edges.


I feel like I’ve said everything: great characters, awesome worldbuilding, skillful writing…the only people I’d warn off are those with a low tolerance for violence.  But really, Paolo Bacigalupi is awesome, and you should read his stuff.  The end.


Borrowed, because I am poor and live in a small apartment.


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