29 September 2014

Lee Kelly's City of Savages

I won an ARC of City of Savages in a contest.

I'd honestly never heard of it before, but it sounded exciting from the jacket copy. It took me a while to get into the book at first. I've never even been to New York, and the city was such a presence in the story. But once I acclimated things rolled along smoothly.

City of Savages alternates POV between Phee (Phoenix) Miller and her older sister, Sky(ler), and their voices are presented in beautiful juxtaposition. Phee is aggressive, assertive, impulsive; her sister is quiet, shy, introspective. But both are dependent on the other; both hold a crucial piece that the other needs. And, when the situation calls for it, both girls can be whoever they need to be.

The story starts with the girls and their mother heading toward Central Park for the annual Census. Naturally, complications ensue. What started as a gritty look at a post-war New York quickly turned dark - VERY dark - with ritual combat, 'whorelords' that run the place, and a surprisingly frank look at violence.

In the midst of all this, Sky and Phee also find their mother's journal from the days just after the war, and its secrets inform the girls as well as the reader. I very quickly cottoned on to the true identity of one of City of Savages main characters, long before the girls did. The suspense of waiting to see them figure it out was exquisite.

City of Savages also presented one of the most unique love triangles I've seen in a long time: rather than one girl torn between two boys, it was two girls after the same boy. The outcome was very rewarding to witness.

City of Savages was brilliant, but it was difficult, too. I don't usually read fiction as dark as this. Not just in violence, not just in human degradation - the dissolution of family, the casual and not-so-casual betrayals that occur, were hard to take in. It was compelling, and I read the entire last act in one sitting, but it was intense and draining for me.

I would gladly recommend City of Savages to anyone who likes dark or dystopian stories. Lots of people are saying dystopian is dead. City of Savages proves there's plenty left to be said on the subject.