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4.4 out of 5 stars18
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 5 July 2012
Sometimes a book is just all that much better for being so disgustingly horrible. For not glossing over the gruesome details, for keeping the reader hooked in wide-eyed horror. This is that kind of book. The author doesn't waste his time on niceties, this story's about the harsh realities of survival and the unfortunate lengths that people have to go to in order to just stay alive. This book is nasty and gritty, and yet none of the violence and gore felt gratuitous, and above all else Paolo Bacigalupi is actually an incredible writer.

For those of you - like me - who felt that Ship Breaker was a little bit too much of a "boy book", despite being impressed by the writing and the imagery, I want to let you know that you should have no such concerns about The Drowned Cities. Not only is this a much better book than its predecessor, it has a broader reach. This, in my opinion, is about so much more than high-action scenes to please teen male readers, there are strong messages about war and loyalty and survival.

The story mainly focuses on three individuals, Mahlia, her companion Mouse, and a genetically engineered soldier which combines parts of various animals and human DNA to make the ultimate killing machine (called Tool). War plays a big part in this book, it is what threatens the safety of the characters, what forces them on, what challenges them to make a number of big decisions. Mahlia, with only a stump at the end of her right arm, is already a victim of this war. A war that is a lot more familiar to humanity than most of us would like to think.

To digress slightly, tomorrow I will be taking an exam in international relations and one of the key topics is what we call "new wars". These are a certain type of wars that have been on the rise for the last couple of decades, the kind that sees new technology creating cheap and light weaponry that can be handled by children. Some of these children are five years old when they are recruited and forced to kill or be killed. The relevance? Mahlia and Mouse are children also caught up in a war, a war where the "soldier boys" are nothing but children with attitudes and big guns. Children who've been brainwashed into seeking cruelty and violence - because their only other option was to become a victim. The Drowned Cities may seem to be a futuristic/dystopian novel, but the war that the characters are facing is nothing that hasn't already happened in our world, nothing that isn't happening right now.

This is a very sad, honest tale of war, with particular emphasis on the effect it has on children. There are many questions being asked here that I think Paolo Bacigalupi wants us to seriously consider. It is so easy to forget that children are being forced into this kind of life through fear, not in a different world or dimension, not in a possible future, but right now across the globe. This is a much deeper and thought-provoking book than I imagined and I know I'll be thinking about it for quite some time.
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on 19 July 2012
Set in the same petroleum-free dystopian future history as his critically acclaimed "Shipbreaker", with characters and a setting as compelling as his great literary debut "The Windup Girl", Paolo Bacigalupi's "The Drowned Cities" ranks among our best recent dystopian Science Fiction novels. It is also among the finest novels published this year, a mesmerizing tale about war and survival, friendship and loyalty that I have found far more compelling than recently published dystopian fiction from the likes of Ernest Cline, Colson Whitehead and Karen Thompson Walker. Paolo Bacigalupi demonstrates once more why he is one of our most impressive young writers of science fiction, conjuring yet another spellbinding tale that takes readers into some of the darkest corners of human behavior, emphasizing American Civil War Union general William T. Sherman's observation that "War is Hell". With "The Drowned Cities", Baciogalupi offers ample evidence that he is becoming one of the finest prose stylists writing in contemporary science fiction, joining the ranks of such impressive stylists as China Mieville and Michael Swanwick, and deservedly worthy of appealing to a broad spectrum of readers, not only those interested in Young Adult fiction. An unlikely encounter with a bioengineered living weapon of war, Tool, plunges adolescent outcasts Mahlia and Mouse into an epic journey of survival, as they attempt fleeing the pillaged, almost desolate, war-torn landscape of the Drowned Cities, located amidst a bleak dystopian futuristic America that readers may find all too probable. Theirs is also an epic quest in attaining adulthood, brought about by circumstances beyond their control - and those all too brutal and harsh -within a fictional setting far darker and dire than that depicted in Cormac McCarthy's "The Road". Without question, "The Drowned Cities" is one that merits ample consideration for science fiction's highest literary honors; it is such an engrossing work that it should be noticed and celebrated by those familiar only with mainstream literary Anglo-American fiction too.
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on 1 June 2012
I have to agree with many of the things that the previous reviewer has written. I have read three previous books by Paolo Bacigalupi, Pump Six, The Wind Up Girl and Shipbreaker. Each book is excellent and I expected the same from The Drowned Cities. Unfortunatly, although it is a good read it is not on the same level as Shipbreaker, which is set in the same timeline/world. The book is just to long, and I feel that the story could have been told in half the length. I didnt really feel anything for the characters and by the end of the book I didnt care what was happening to them. I have given it 3 stars as I think the writing is pretty good, but it lacks a real story. Hopefully with his next book Paolo Bacigalupi can revert to his previous form.
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Having read Shipbreaker last year, I was more than interested to see how the world would develop in future stories as it was dark enough to begin with. What this loose sequel to the original story does is amerces the reader into this dark apocalyptic future and takes them on an adventure where the cost of life and death is measured in seconds and choices have severe consequences.

It's well written, the prose as well as pace sharp and when added to dealing with harsh facts it's a tale that needs the reader's full attention as they get deeper within the pages. Add to this Paolo's wonderfully addictive writing style as well as his ability to take you there in an almost cinematic manner and you know that its definitely a story that will stay with you long after the final page is turned.
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on 3 March 2014
This is a frighteningly believable future skilfully created by Paolo Bacigalupi.

In this future, sea levels and temperatures have risen dramatically and much of the action centres around a ruined Washington DC (never named as such, but this gradually becomes evident) where roads have been replaced by waterways, dangerous wild beasts prowl, and the child soldiers of various militias wreak atrocities on all and sundry in their warlords' battle for power. These child soldiers are similar to those of Charles Taylor and the other Liberian warlords or of Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army, and it is all too easy in the context of this account to accept the reality of a future where these atrocities are taking place in mainland USA rather than distant Africa. In a striking parallel to the USA involvement in Viet Nam and other more recent debacles, the Chinese Government had for several years tried to create order through an occupying army, offering economic assistance, before being forced into dramatic precipitous retreat by the various militias and anyone linked to this Chinese colonial occupation is now despised.

In this book we follow the main characters in their search for meaning and survival through this terrible war zone:
Mahlia, the "cast off" girl, daughter of a Chinese soldier.
Mouse, the orphaned farm boy,
Tool, the "augment", part man, dog, hyena, tiger, genetically modified for combat, who appeared previously in "Shipbreaker".
Ocho, the child sergeant.

I do not usually choose to read books such as this where the future reality is so unrelentingly grim. About a year ago I read "The Windup Girl" and "Shipbreaker", and, though I respected the writing, had decided against reading further. However, I eventually succumbed to curiosity and had to read this book. I found it very readable, and got through most of it in two sittings. Although all the action takes place in a world of casual cruelty, I did not feel that this was embroidered sadistically, rather it was simply part of the narrative. I preferred this book to the previous two, perhaps because I was already familiar with this future reality from the earlier ones. I am glad I read this book. Paolo Bacigalupi certainly knows how to write.
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on 25 May 2012
After taking a chance on "Shipbreaker" and being absolutely blown away, I devoured Bacigalupi's debut novel "The Wind-Up Girl" with similar enthusiasm. Suffice to say my hopes for "Drowned Cities" - which takes place in the same universe as "Shipbreaker" and features a familiar character - were very high. Unfortunately I can't say that they were even remotely met. I found "Drowned Cities" clumsy and shallow, suggestive of a first novella rather than the authors third offering. The overall concept was sound enough, if a bit cliched; a pair of outcasts find themselves caught up in a struggle between warring factions, and must chose between their morals and their ingrained desire to survive at any costs. Unfortunately every instance in which the characters experience an epiphany or a moment of moralistic clarity feels hideously forced, lacking in any of the subtlety that really allow the reader to connect with the characters. I found all of the characters, with the possible exception of farmer boy Mouse, insufferable, to the extent that I rushed through the book with the hopes that they would all meet some grisly demise. I am genuinely disappointed by this offering; however, since "Shipbreaker" and "The Wind-Up Girl" were such enjoyable novels I will give the benefit of the doubt when the follow-up to this is released. I just hope that Mr. Bacigalupi doesn't take advantage of my good nature!
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on 13 May 2014
I was surprised when this book didn't follow on with the same characters as the last. Set in the same world and time, this book follows a war maggot girl called Mahlia, a young boy called Mouse and the awesome Tool (the only crossover character). Although people have largely reviewed this as not as good as Shipbreaker, I actually enjoyed it more... Gritty and intense.

Bring on book 3!
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on 26 June 2012
This story continues the saga of Tool, the augmented half-man we first meet in Ship Breaker. However, while Ship Breaker is set in the relatively civilised North, Drowned Cities is set in a brutal and war torn South. This book captures well the lethality of this forsaken and hopeless land, and immerses us in this lush new jungle/urban hybrid environment where disparate factions of warlord-controlled child-soldiers battle continually in a senseless conflict fuelled by their own war-induced hatred of each other.

While DC does not have the same impact as SB and the book definitely has the feel of a sequel, Bacigalupi still delivers a exciting, harrowing tale of morality, kinship, and extremes of emotion which has kept me enthralled thus far. I have not yet read the final third so my opinion my yet change but I would urge any Bacigalupi fan to read it.
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on 30 January 2014
Review by Madison - Year 10

Drowned Cities shows a world where war is raging. Soldiers do cruel things and wild animals like Coyotes stalk the night adding to the danger for everyone. there is no escape, the rescue ships left ages ago taking the peace-keepers with them. Now all that is left is the instinct to survive.

Mahlia and Mouse have managed to survive so far, Mouse having saved Mahlia’s life; so when Mouse gets captured, Mahlia decides its time to repay her debt.

This book is action packed and very hard to put down :) There is always something happening. The plot and world building are very intriguing. I have to say I was really sad to see the book end. The Drowned Cities definitely has a high recommendation from me.
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on 20 May 2013
I like PBs books and find his writing style engaging and well written. I've read his other books and enjoyed them immensely. This book was also a good read and I finished it in a 2-3 days of late night reading. As usual it is well written and enjoyable. When I finished the book I had the impression that it was a simpler storyline than the other books and, missing something. The ideas from some of the other books are touched upon but only in passing, so you really only get a glance at the world in which the book is placed.

Having said that I'd still recommend the book.
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