THE DROWNED CITIES

By Paolo Bacigalupi

Little, Brown. $17.99. Age 14 and up.

 

Beach reads? Not in Paolo Bacigalupi’s post-apocalyptic future, when our prosperous “Accelerated Age” has been swept away by global-warmed seas. In this dark, riveting novel, a companion to the Printz-winning “Ship Breaker,” the country’s beaches have been swallowed up, the books gone moldy and the survivors too busy fleeing and fighting to be entertained by words on a page. The nation’s capital is flooded, with the Washington Monument “spiking up into the searing blue sky, right out of the center of the lake.” The Capitol is the headquarters of a series of warring rulers. The story opens in the city’s jungle-like outskirts, where Mahlia and Mouse, two unrelated “war maggots” (orphans), eke out an existence with the doctor who has taken them in. All that ends when boy soldiers descend on their village and demand medical care for their teenage sergeant, Ocho, the victim of a monstrous dog man. Mahlia alone knows the creature’s swampy whereabouts, and when the young soldiers force Mouse to join them, she seeks his help. The only character from the first book to return, the genetically engineered Tool proves strangely sympathetic as he and Mahlia navigate the savage city. The girl is determined to rescue Mouse and escape north. Bacigalupi deftly shifts the third-person point of view amongst Mahlia, Tool, Mouse and Ocho, offering their different back stories and perspectives and bringing them together in a gut-clenching, heart-wrenching climax.

Mary Quattlebaum