City of Savages by Lee Kelly

City of SavagesThis book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

“It’s been nearly two decades since the Red Allies first attacked New York, and Manhattan is now a prisoner-of-war camp, ruled by Rolladin and her brutal, impulsive warlords. For Skyler Miller, Manhattan is a cage that keeps her from the world beyond the city’s borders. But for Sky’s younger sister, Phee, the POW camp is a dangerous playground of possibility, and the only home she’d ever want.

When Sky and Phee discover their mom’s hidden journal from the war’s outbreak, they both realize there’s more to Manhattan—and their mother—than either of them had ever imagined. And after a group of strangers arrives at the annual POW census, the girls begin to uncover the island’s long-kept secrets. The strangers hail from England, a country supposedly destroyed by the Red Allies, and Rolladin’s lies about Manhattan’s captivity begin to unravel.

Hungry for the truth, the sisters set a series of events in motion that end in the death of one of Rolladin’s guards. Now they’re outlaws, forced to join the strange Englishmen on an escape mission through Manhattan. Their flight takes them into subways haunted by cannibals, into the arms of a sadistic cult in the city’s Meatpacking District and, through the pages of their mom’s old journal, into the island’s dark and shocking past.”

This novel’s strength lies in the relationship between Sky and Phee.  Despite the post-apocalyptic setting, anybody reading the book will be able to identify with the conflicts and difficulties in dealing with a close family member.  The sisters are at the age where they’re more likely to hide their true feelings and thoughts than to share them, and that tendency gets magnified when the things they keep quiet about have the potential to affect their survival.

The problem that I have with this novel lies in its setting.  I have no quibble with the scenario as a whole–Kelly has obviously put some thought into how an attack on the US would play out–but the specific situations that crop up are way too derivative for me.  Rolladin is mostly a typical small-time dictator, although she has a few personality quirks that save her from being too much of a cliche.  But there are staged fights reminiscent of other post-apocalyptic stories, monsters in the subways, and a crazy cult leader, among other things.  I kept finding myself rolling my eyes as all-too-familiar elements showed up one by one, almost in a predictable order.

That said, this would be a great novel to introduce somebody to the genre.  Yes, there are those familiar elements, but mostly they’re familiar because, on many levels, they work.  It’s just that longtime dystopian readers are likely to find these tropes stale by now.  Newer readers, though, could very well fall in love with genre.  The tropes aren’t badly done by any means, they’re just very typical.

I don’t agree with the large number of reviewers who have praised this book to the skies, but it’s definitely not a bad example of post-apocalyptic fiction.  Aside from a few grumbles about derivative scenarios, I mostly enjoyed this novel.


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