“Reading Lolita in Tehran” by Azar Nafisi

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books was not the kind of book that I thought it would be. I assumed that it would be the story of the girls that got together to read every Thursday, and that the mention of Lolita in the title was for shock value, since it’s such a controversial book. I should have taken the subtitle (A Memoir in Books) more seriously, since I think it is a great description. The book is Azar Nafisi’s memoir, which includes the story of her Thursday morning classes, and a healthy dose of literary analysis.

Azar Nafisi went from a revolutionary Iranian student in the U.S. to being a professor of English literature at the University of Tehran just after the revolution. She describes how the revolution changed Iran and herself, using liberal comparisons and allusions to the works of Vladimir Nabokov, Henry James and Jane Austen and The Great Gatsby. She is extremely frank about her life, even about her initial naivete and her constant confusion about her life.

Once I’d gotten over my expectations of what the book was going to be, I started to enjoy the book. It was still pretty slow reading; I couldn’t focus on the book for long stretches. I think it was because of a few reasons. The first is that life under the Iranian regime sounded very tough, and I couldn’t take reading about it for too long. Secondly, Nafisi’s writing is very poetic, but also quite disjointed and jumps around a lot. Third, she was analysing a few books I hadn’t read, and it seemed a bit dense to me. None of these reasons is a bad thing, of course.

I think that Nafisi’s way of writing really describes her very well – she frequently mentions being confused about what actions to take next and how to counsel her students, and her writing reflects that. She jumps between different time periods and between her interactions with different people. Her constant allusion to books, passages, quotes, characters, etc. was also really interesting – it is clear that she is a professor of literature through and through. As a person who has read a lot but has never taken a college English class, I found those sections of the book fascinating.

I would have liked to read Henry James’ books and The Great Gatsby before reading this one, since they’re now fully spoiled for me. I would’ve gotten a lot more out of the analyses. I did enjoy the analysis of Lolita, and was disappointed that the “Austen” section didn’t really talk much about her books.

This is book 17 of 25 of my Dec 11, 2011 book challenge.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Random House, 2003 | Buy the book

Four Kindle books by Ruth Nestvold

I’ve never really seen the need for a Kindle until now; I’ve always preferred the user experience of real books. However, I failed to consider that there might be good books out there that aren’t available in physical form. I really enjoyed Ruth Nestvold’s Yseult, and have been reading more of her work. I also liked White Planet by Ash Silverlock. Now I really want a Kindle, so I can read more stories like these on a device more suited to reading long things than my computer.

Anyway, this is a review of four Kindle books by Ruth Nestvold. None of them is as long or epic as Yseult; Looking Through Lace is a single story, and the other three are collections of short stories. Since they’re all pretty short (Yseult is longer than all of them combined), I figured I’d do a single post on them. Here are my reviews, in the order I read the books:

1. Dragon Time and Other Stories

This book contains four short stories: Dragon Time, Wooing Ai Kyarem, To Act the Witch, and Princes and Priscilla. Overall, I thought that it was a pretty strong collection. I was a bit surprised by the fact that all the stories had a strong element of romance to them, but that’s probably because I went into the author’s novel, Yseult expecting a lot more romance than there was, and that skewed my expectations.

I was pretty impressed with the range of settings described in Dragon Time and Other Stories. The titular story is set in a place like medieval Germany, Wooing Ai Kyarem is set in what seemed like Mongolia and Genghis-Khan inspired, and To Act the Witch is set in 17th century England. Nestvold was able to capture very different feels in all the stories, and I really enjoyed that.

I thought that To Act the Witch was the weakest of the stories; the events of the story were too big to be adequately conveyed in such a short story. It felt a bit rushed and not entirely believable. I still enjoyed it, though. Dragon Time was a fun story, although it was a bit too romantic for me. Wooing Ai Kyarem was one of my favourites; I liked Ai Kyarem and her determination a lot. Princes and Priscilla was my other favourite, I also loved Priscilla’s way of taking matters into her own hands, and the humour of the story.

2. If Tears Were Wishes And Other Short Stories

This book had three stories: Feather and Ring, Woman in Abaya with Onion, and If Tears Were Wishes. These are all set in the modern day and feature American women protagonists, but are set in different countries.

Feather and Ring follows Lindsay, a game designer whose marriage and career is falling apart. While visiting Taiwan, she meets a mysterious woman who just might be a goddess. This is a pretty simple and endearing story, and I liked it. I’m not quite sure if I understood the second story, Woman in Abaya with Onion, but I enjoyed it all the same. It follows Haley, a young woman that has a series of hallucinations of previous massacres in the places that she visits, even as she falls in love with a young Egyptian man. It was a bit more ominous than Nestvold’s usual style.

If Tears Were Wishes was probably my favourite of the three stories. It follows a pair of twins whose tears grant wishes. One of the twins, Brooke, is kidnapped to take advantage of her power, and the other, Crystal vows to find her. Things get pretty interesting since each of them has the power to grant wishes. I loved the ending, too.

3. Never Ever After: Three Short Stories

I’ll review the three stories in Never Ever After one-by-one.

A Serca Tale: In a lot of stories, heroes are portrayed as universally likeable. Every woman wants him, and every man wants to be him. But what if there’s a woman that doesn’t want him, but has been promised to him by people that assume she does? This story is set in an Eriu similar to that of Yseult, so I enjoyed the familiarity. I wish that the heroine hadn’t fled one man only to end up with another, but I suppose it’s the freedom of choice that matters. I did enjoy the story, though.

King Orfeigh: I really enjoyed this story, which tells of a king who has lost his wife to the faerie king, and has been trying to find her and win her back. It’s written in the second person, which I found kind of jarring at first, but got used to pretty quickly. The story is heartfelt and touching.

Happily Ever Awhile: This story explores Cinderella’s life after she marries her young Prince Charming and lives “happily ever after.” Being married to a prince has its drawbacks – he has to rule a kingdom, and lead its men to war if there is one. Ellie manages to find happiness, though. Happily Ever Awhileis a fun story, and manages to balance the fairy tale and the realistic quite well.

Overall, a great collection of stories!

4. Looking Through Lace

Looking Through Lace is the story of Toni, a xenolinguist who is assigned to work with a first contact team. She’s been relegated to doing grunt work until now, and is really excited for the opportunity to prove herself.

The alien world in Looking Through Lace is fascinating – although the inhabitants are descended from humans, they have a unique history and culture. The women speak an entirely different language among themselves that the men are not allowed to learn, and Toni is determined to figure out how and why that happened. However, she has a jealous senior colleague and the affections of an attractive native (who just happens to be in a group marriage) to contend with.

I enjoyed reading a science-fiction story by Nestvold; all the other work I’ve read by her has been fantasy. She keeps up the excellent worldbuilding and characters. I found the revelations concerning the history of the world very interesting. The antagonist xenolinguist seemed like a bit of a caricature, but the interesting alien world more than made up for it.

Dragon Time and Other Stories by Ruth Nestvold
Red Dragon Books, 2012 | Buy the book

If Tears Were Wishes And Other Short Stories by Ruth Nestvold
Red Dragon Books, 2012 | Buy the book

Never Ever After: Three Short Stories by Ruth Nestvold
Red Dragon Books, 2012 | Buy the book

Looking Through Lace by Ruth Nestvold (Looking through Lace, #1)
Red Dragon Books, 2011 | Buy the book

“Kick-Ass” by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.

Kick-Ass coverKick-Ass follows Dave Lizewski, an ordinary high-schooler and comic nerd that dreams of being a superhero, and then decides to actually become one. He discovers that it isn’t really easy to fight crime as an untrained sixteen year old, but he perseveres.

I watched (and loved) the Kick-Ass movie a while back, so I knew almost exactly what I was getting into with this book. The movie captures the feel of the book very well, even though the events in the book are somewhat different. The movie treats the characters more idealistically than the book. The book reminded me of Watchmen a bit, except that the scale is not so epic, and the mood is much less melancholy and much more optimistic.

I always feel a bit nervous about reviewing graphic novels, because I treat them just like any other book, and I’m not sure if I’m supposed to. I know that graphic novels have their own conventions etc., but I don’t think I’ve read enough of them to be aware of them yet. I really enjoyed the way Kick-Ass was structured, but I’m not sure if that’s just a function of the medium.

Anyway, I did really enjoy the book – it’s hilarious, the characters are fun, and even though Dave is extremely foolhardy; I can’t help but admire his perseverance. And of course, Hit-Girl is my favourite character, simply because she is such a badass (I sincerely hope that she never exists in real life, though.)

I should warn potential readers that there is a lot of violence and profanity from children etc, but overall, Kick-Ass is a very well done black comedy. I can’t wait to read Kick-Ass 2.

This is book 16 of 25 of my Dec 11, 2011 book challenge.

Kick-Ass by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr. (Kick-Ass, #1)
Marvel Publications, 2010 | Buy the book

“Anathem” by Neal Stephenson

Anathem coverI’ve had several false starts with Anathem; I found the beginning pretty hard to get into. There is a lot of new terminology, and it seemed a bit dense. However, once I finally got going, I couldn’t stop reading.

Anathem is set on the planet Arbre, in the Concent of Saunt Edhar. Concents are similar to monasteries, but are staffed by people called avout who are dedicated to research. We follow Fraa Erasmus, a young avout as he prepares to see the outside world for the first time in ten years. As this is happening, people around him have started acting mysterious, and he’s a pretty curious fellow. I don’t want to say much more for fear of spoilers, but he goes on a pretty epic journey, emotionally, philosophically and physically. The book is plotted tightly and has a very apt ending.

I’m not sure how much my academic background helped me understand this book – I was familiar with a lot of the concepts. The philosophical arguments (or “Dialog”), the rhetoric and the explorations of the nature of the universe/consciousness were pretty breathtaking.

The worldbuilding was extensive – we learned a lot about the history, geography and culture of Arbre, and how it differed across the world. I loved the detailed history of the various chapters and concents within the mathic world (the avouts), with sound philosophical backing. It was an extremely immersive experience to read about them. I much preferred the orderly world of Anathem‘s avout to the more gritty worlds portrayed in Neal Stephenson’s other novels (Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash.)

The characters were well-rounded, and a lot of fun and the relationships between them extremely touching. By the end of the book, I felt like I knew Fraa Erasmus’ friends almost as well as he did. It’s always extremely satisfying when a book can balance a consistent and reasonable story with actual heart, and Anathem did a great job, especially considering it deals so much with ideas and debate. It would have been really easy for the book to come off as cold, academic and dry, but it never even comes close.

I’ve failed my book challenge miserably, since I’ve acquired a lot of books (and read a bunch of those) since making that post. However, I’m still keeping track of it, for consistency’s sake. Anathem is the largest book on the list, so I’m pretty happy with finishing it.

This is book 15 of 25 of my Dec 11, 2011 book challenge.

Anathem by Neal Stephenson
William Morrow and Company, 2008 | Buy the book

“There is a Tide” and “Passenger to Frankfurt” by Agatha Christie

I read two Agatha Christie mysteries yesterday, and will review them both in this post.

There is a Tide (also sold as Taken at the Flood) is a Hercule Poirot novel. It’s a pretty typical (I mean that in a good way) Christie book, following the devious plots of the Cloade family and interested parties.

While in a club to escape an air raid in World War II, Hercule Poirot overhears a story claiming that a man, Robert Underhay, who has been reported dead was actually intending to fake his own death and live a new life as Enoch Arden. He files it away in his brain as being interesting, and years later. something actually comes of it. Robert Underhay’s young widow, Rosaleen, has married Gordon Cloade, who is an incredibly rich man. Unfortunately, he is also soon dead, killed in an air raid. The Cloade family has been dependent on Cloade’s money (with his encouragement), and now all of it goes to Rosaleen. Things are complicated by a man named Enoch Arden turning up at the Cloades’ home village, Warmsley Vale.

This book has a million twists and turns, most of which I didn’t see coming. I read somewhere that Agatha Christie often pulls up new evidence that explains everything at the end – I have never found this to be the case. Every time a new revelation was made, I realised that I should have connected the dots, but of course, my little grey cells are not Poirot’s. Each clue is definitely foreshadowed. There are also plenty of red herrings, motives for murder, false alibis… everything that makes a Christie novel fun. I also enjoyed the look at post-World War II British hardships. Definitely recommended.

Passenger to Frankfurt cover In There is a Tide, Poirot remarks to Superintendent Spence that it’s always the human interest that gets him. I think that is what I like so much about Agatha Christie’s books – her incisive and almost brutal analyses of all the people in her books. This is especially well achieved in her books about murders within families. Unfortunately, that’s also what this book lacks.

Passenger to Frankfurt seems to be Agatha Christie’s attempt to write a thriller. I am not sure how many of these non-murder mystery books she’s written; this is the first one I’ve read. It follows a global conspiracy to control the world, reviving Nazism along the way. The protagonist is a British diplomat, who is aided by a beautiful female spy.

The book features some traditional Christie trademarks, like the couple falling in love, and some incisive commentary about the players in the conspiracy. However, most of it felt muddled and incomprehensible, and a little dated. I think Christie’s brand of sensationalism works really well for small towns, but doesn’t translate well to global events. I also didn’t really understand how each event led to the next, and there were way too many characters introduced, so I couldn’t keep track of who was who. The narrative wasn’t cohesive, with viewpoints being switched erratically.

I’d stick to Christie’s murder mysteries.

Passenger to Frankfurt by Agatha Christie
Collins Crime Club, 1970 | Buy the book

There is a Tide by Agatha Christie
Dodd, 1948 | Buy the book

“River of Gods” by Ian McDonald

River of Gods coverI had been looking forward to reading River of Gods for a long time; science-fiction set in a future India is certainly a novelty, but it also got rave reviews. I was really excited to get it for my birthday, and it jumped to the top of my reading queue.

The book is set in India of 2047, around the hundredth anniversary of India’s independence from the British. India has split into a number of countries (I believe the term is “Balkanisation”), including Awadh, Bharat and Bangla. There has been a drought in all three countries for years, and they are ready to resort to desperate measures for water. We follow nine different viewpoints – a cop and his wife, a civil servant, a gangster, a set designer, two foreign scientists, a journalist and a stand up comedian. Their stories start off very differently (the first 100 pages or so are pretty confusing), but eventually converge in a story that decides the fate of India.

River of Gods is primarily two things – a science fiction story and a book set in India. I think it is a pretty amazing science fiction book, but the setting of India did not feel authentic to me – the details were all somewhat off-kilter. I’ll address these two things separately.

First, the science fiction story: The plot was really well-developed and came together well. The AIs (“aeais”) were fascinating, and reminded me a bit of the AIs in Neuromancer. I was really swept up in the quest to find out what was really going on and how all the characters and their lives fit together, and the conclusion was satisfying and packed an emotional punch. The world was well-realised and consistent. A lot of the fun came from not knowing what lay ahead, so I don’t want to reveal any plot points.

Although the world felt real and believable, it did not seem like a future India. A lot of the words and concepts shown to be in everyday use already seem archaic to me. The caste system is already fading away in common parlance, and it is weird that it plays such a large role in Bharat 2047. It also seems a bit implausible that India would have split into Awadh, Bangla and Bharat – even if India were to split up, I don’t think that’s the configuration it would take. The slang, the choice of names, the way the people acted… it was almost right, but that made the lack of accuracy much more apparent. Although I would have liked the author to do more research, I think I would have even been okay with less research. The India of River of Gods was very unsettling.

I was also a bit disturbed by the portrayal of India as an extremely Hindu nation, where Muslims are hated and a fundamentalist Hindu party is such a giant threat. That doesn’t match up with my experiences in India, although our politicians are always talking about being more Indian (renaming cities from their British names, for instance) and we do have a couple of very Hindu political parties, I don’t think that they have that much influence.

Other nitpicks: the number of sex scenes in this book is totally unnecessary and gratuitous, and pulled me out of the book. Another annoying thing was the sheer number of Hindi words used in the book, a lot of them seemed also totally unnecessary. I am pretty familiar with Hindi, so I was okay, but I imagine it would be pretty annoying for people to have to look up terms in the glossary every couple of paragraphs. Hindi words are used in place of extremely ordinary words, like “alley”, and a lot of English words are Hindi-ised.

In any case, despite all my quibbles about the setting, I think River of Gods is a great science-fiction book, and I would definitely recommend it on that strength.

River of Gods by Ian McDonald (River of Gods, #1)
Pyr, 2006 | Buy the book

“Yseult” by Ruth Nestvold

Yseult coverI won a PDF of Yseult: A Tale of Love in the Age of King Arthur in the LibraryThing member giveaway a couple of weeks ago. After finishing White Planet, it occurred to me that I had another e-book to read and review, so I opened up Yseult to flip through it and see what kind of a book it was. I’m usually not the biggest fan of romance, even though I love fantasy and historical books, so I wasn’t really expecting to get sucked into this book like I was. I started reading, and couldn’t stop.

Yseult is a retelling/interpretation/whatever-you-want-to-call-it of the classic Tristan and Isolde story. I was vaguely familiar with the story (“basically Romeo and Juliet”), but only to the extent that I recognise some characters and plot elements. I didn’t even know that Tristan was one of Arthur’s knights

The book is much more than a love story. It is truly an epic, exploring the conflicts between paganism and Christianity, political maneuvering between the various kings of Britain and Ireland, the wars between themselves and with the Saxons, and a lot more. It reminded me a bit of The Mists of Avalon, although Yseult was much more fun to read.

Anyway, onto an actual description of the book. Yseult the Fair is an Irish (“Erainn”) princess descended from the Feadh Ree, the original race of Ireland.  She grows up in a time where Christianity is trying to make inroads into Ireland, and has already taken over much of Britain. The Feadh Ree, who were once universally respected, are even being attacked by some Gaul kings. War is everywhere, and any available peace seems to be temporary. Yseult tries to make the best of her situation, defending her home when necessary. Along the way, she meets Drystan, and falls in love with him. However, for political and personal reasons, she agrees to be married to his father Marcus, one of the Kings of Dummonia. She can never forget Drystan though, and he cannot forget her, either.

Both Yseult and Drystan are well-rounded and utterly likeable characters. I couldn’t help but root for them, even as they spiraled into the unavoidable tragedy that is their story, and made decisions that I knew were going to end badly. I never doubted the intensity of their love, even though I(and they) recognised that it was a terrible idea. I’m generally pretty unromantic, and even I felt this way.

But as I said above, Yseult isn’t just a love story. It’s the story of Yseult the Fair, which includes a love story, but also includes all the stories of all the other people in her and Drystan’s life – an amazing supporting cast, including Arthur and a few people associated with his story, Patriac (who I didn’t realise was St. Patrick until I read another review of this book), Yseult the Wise, Cador, and of course, Kurvenal and Brangwyn. All of them change and grow extremely believably.  The religious conflicts are very well-portrayed and almost unbiased, demonstrating the inevitability of change and the futility of fighting against it. It was also very interesting to  read about the political side of things, shifting loyalties, values or lack thereof and the kinds of risks taken. Yseult also sounds pretty historically accurate, and it was pretty fun to read about fifth century British and Irish civilisation and traditions.

Oh, and why is this a fantasy, and not just historical? The Feadh Ree and their descendants have one or more of three magical powers, the power of knowing, the power of calling, and the power of changing. These magical abilities do not dictate the course of the story, they just help enhance it.

This book is only available in English on Kindle right now (for the very reasonable price of $4.95), and I urge you to read it! The author says that she has plans to release it in paperback, and I’m definitely going to buy myself a copy when she does.

Amazon US: Yseult: A Tale of Love in the Age of King Arthur
Author Blog: http://ruthnestvold.wordpress.com/
Author Website: http://www.ruthnestvold.com/

Yseult by Ruth Nestvold (The Pendragon Chronicles, #1)
Red Dragon Books, 2012 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

“White Planet” by Ash Silverlock

White Planet cover.I received an e-book of Ash Silverlock’s self published novel, White Planet, to review last month. This is the first volume of The Ice World Chronicles, a fantasy set in a science-fictional universe (as far as I can tell.)

Rygarth was once a colony world in an interstellar empire, but has been forgotten for some time. There are stories that it used to be a lush, green world, but now it is covered with ice and extremely hostile. Humans survive in camps or giant Iceholds, and there are a few other sentient species on the planet too. Now there are reports that the Cygors (or Beastmen), who slaughtered humanity in the past, have returned, and the scattered clans of Rygarth have to unite against their common enemy.

We follow several viewpoints – Gideon, a young Hunter of Icehold Tunguska who is setting out on his first hunt, Ellani, the daughter of a mysterious Shaper, Artamon, a visitor from  another world with his own purpose, Wadi, the Artificer of Icehold Tunguska, and other camp chiefs and soldiers. They are all well-written and pretty distinct characters, but they are all a bit overwhelming together, especially since everyone seems to be worried about a different threat to the world, and I couldn’t tell which ones were the same. The Cygors, the Beastmen, the Aberrents, the Nemesis, the Shapers, the godless Iceholders, the Gnarl, mutants, the dark mistress. This is a lot to digest in just 50 pages.

“A lot to digest” actually summarises the main problem I have with this book – it is so short, but it seems to try and explore every science fiction and fantasy concept out there, and gives everything and everyone multiple names along the way (Cygors/Beastmen, Frost Mark/Everfrost, to name a couple.) There’s the interstellar empire, dragons, mutants, telepathic powers manifested in multiple ways, a mysterious master, a mysterious book of spells, five sentient species on this world alone, feuds between all of them, a young man coming of age, a secret that only the leadership knows about. All these avenues are explored through different means, which means there are just more and more mysteries created in every page. It’s hard to care about what happens when everything is a mystery and there doesn’t seem to be anything to tie it all together.

However, the world is pretty intriguing and the characters are interesting so I’m still going to read the next book and give the author the benefit of the doubt. I assume that there is a good overarching story that makes sense with all these plot threads. . I hope that the next book is either longer or has less viewpoints/concepts, and has some answers.

White Planet: Sample; Amazon US; Amazon UK
Authors’ website: Fabulous Realms

White Planet by Ash Silverlock (The Ice World Chronicles, #1)
Self-published, 2012 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

“Oryx and Crake” by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake coverI’ve been working on Oryx and Crake for a while, but finally finished it on the plane back to the United States. I received this book for SantaThing, LibraryThing’s secret santa program (Thanks, Marie!), so I was especially excited to read this book.

I’ve only read one Margaret Atwood book before, The Handmaid’s Tale, which I thought was a great book. (I really need to buy myself a copy at some point.) Even though that was quite a disturbing story, I found Oryx and Crake infinitely more horrifying. Perhaps it is because The Handmaid’s Tale was about a whole system, and told the story of individuals caught in it. Oryx and Crake is about the individuals who created the system, and it is much more horrifying when individuals change the course of the world, and you see an intimate portrait of who they are.

The blurb on the back of the book is pretty vague about what the book is about. I think I got a lot from the experience of letting the book unfold without knowing much about it, so I don’t want to talk too much about what happens. We follow Jimmy, alias Snowman, in his life after the “flood” that wiped out humanity as he watches over the Children of Crake. Much of the book tells the story of Jimmy and how he ended up in this situation, as well as the stories of Oryx and Crake, as seen through Jimmy’s eyes.

The future world is pretty appalling – corporations have secured cities called Compounds where their employees live and work. The rest of the world live in “pleeblands” – dangerous, lawless cities. Corporations dominate the world, using advanced scientific techniques to create animals, pills, self-help tapes – anything that will increase their profit margin and make consumers even more dependent on them.

However, the real focus of the book is on the characters. Jimmy, Oryx and Crake are all characters with serious problems, but it seems like everyone in that world has serious problems by modern day standards. Jimmy makes a very interesting narrator, he seems so hapless (and has terrible survival skills) and stupid, compared to the people he reminisces about. Jimmy the neurotypical, as he is called at one point. Since we only see the other characters through his eyes, we don’t know what actually happened and what is just his interpretation of what happened. He is not without his own insecurities, so it is quite probable that his opinions are coloured by them.

I don’t think I can say much more about the book without ruining certain plot elements, so I won’t say much more. All the characters’ psychologies are scarily real, and this book stuck with me for days afterward. I still keep occasionally thinking about parts of it.

I will read The Year of the Flood, set in the same world and part of a proposed trilogy, but not until a couple of months have passed. It would make me too sad to read it right away.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (MaddAddam, #1)
Nan A. Talese, 2003 | Buy the book

“Ship Breaker” by Paolo Bacigalupi

Ship Breaker coverPaolo Bacigalupi’s novel, The Windup Girl has been receiving a lot of press over the last couple of years, and I finally received it for my birthday this year. However, I didn’t take it with me to India, and ended up picking up his next book, Ship Breaker, a young adult book set in the future, to read on the flight back. I hesitate to call it a dystopia because we’ve only seen a small portion of the world, which is no worse than some areas of our world today.

Ship Breaker is set in the future, when oil has run out and the world has changed quite a bit. It follows the story of Nailer, a “ship breaker” that works on disassembling and scavenging valuable parts from ancient oil-tankers and other ships that have been beached near New Orleans. (It took me a long time to figure out that this book was set in the U.S., but it’s pretty clear.)  Nailer and his crew are desperately poor, and have to either work or starve – and Nailer is getting almost too big for his light crew job. He also has an abusive, drug-addicted and violent father at home (which is a shack.) He dreams of working on the big, clean clipper ships of the corporations that buy his scavenge, but that’s pretty far-fetched, considering his situation.

He has some hope for things changing when he is the first to find the wreck of a clipper – perhaps he can scavenge enough to make him rich. He does find riches, but he also finds a beautiful girl that’s barely alive. And everyone seems to be after her. Predictably, trouble ensues.

I found the worldbuilding and characters in this book really great. The little details about how the world we know has evolved into Ship Breaker‘s world are delightful, and the world itself is extremely believable. (I was also excited that there were multiple Indian characters! It’s hard enough to find one.) I didn’t care for the plot as much; it seemed almost too simplistic for such a lovingly detailed world and such well-rounded characters. The book has so many adult themes for a young adult book – abuse, drugs, loyalty, poverty, desperation, and a lot more – and they are all explored without any sugar coating or oversimplification. I guess I didn’t expect the plot to be so straightforward. However, it does bring the characters and world into more focus, and that is a good thing.

I’ll definitely be picking up the next installment in this series, The Drowned Cities. I also look forward to reading The Windup Girl even more now, now that I’ve seen what Bacigalupi can do.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (Ship Breaker, #1)
Little, Brown and Company, 2010 | Buy the book