Doty (The Last Cicada, 2018) presents a tale of a dystopian future society featuring inhabitants at the greatest extremes of class stratification: predators and prey.
At just 17 years of age, Calla is already heavily committed to serving her community in the island city of Ancada. She not only acts as a caretaker for livestock called nutrimen—the society’s most valuable food source—but she also documents her experiences for future generations. She seems to genuinely care for the apparently simple-minded, mute nutrimen, particularly one that she’s named April. However, it’s soon revealed that the nutrimen are “derived from [human] DNA.” As a result, readers will have a sense of cognitive dissonance from the very beginning, which continues throughout the story; Calla’s tone is often curious or matter-of-fact, but although her family’s life seems largely idyllic, it holds its own hidden horrors. Even harsher is the world outside, as seen through the eyes of Cole, a solitary figure living off the land; the Thorpe family, barely clinging to life and reduced to living in caves; and Thomas Steinberg, who’s hoping to trade his unscrupulous brilliance for a permanent place in Ancada. But it soon becomes clear that in the shadow of global famine, there’s no such thing as a stable society; as resentment and an urge for survival press the few remaining humans into action, they’re faced with jarring decisions and grim realities. Doty’s stark prose heightens the story’s tension and realism. The only real flaw of the book is the fact that the dialogue sometimes feels stilted and overly expository, as when Calla’s mother tells her, “It’s the way we live. When the sun begins to set we never wander from the safety of the city. That’s why the wall was built: to keep us safe.” Nevertheless, the author manages to make the reader empathize with both the perpetrators and the victims in this cruel world, whether they’re numbed by trauma or ignorant of the true horror that surrounds them. Readers will also likely consider what their own place would be in such a society.
An exciting series starter, featuring an intriguing world with a breadth of characters and themes.