Young warriors fight a repressive government in this dystopian vision of America.
Boutwell’s (Outland Exile, 2015) sequel, which begins immediately after the events of his debut, plunges readers back into the high-stakes fight between the Democratic Unity of America and the Restructured States of America, two nations that emerged following the collapse of the U.S. in 2051. Seventy-five years after the great war, tension between the two countries is increasing. Seventeen-year-old Unity soldier Malila Chiu has faked her death and is on the run from her commander, Eustace Jourdaine, who’s engineering a coup that will put him in charge of the nation. At the same time, the Restructured States have sent Will Butler to spy on the Unity and gather secrets from The CORE, its vast computer network. Malila’s childhood friend Hecate Hester Jones is also fleeing the Unity, hoping to make it across the Scorch, a lawless borderland filled with sentient plants. Meanwhile, wizened warrior Jesse Johnstone is on his own mission for the Restructured States even as he fends off assassination attempts. If all this sounds a little confusing, it is, at least at first. Readers would be wise to start with the series’ first installment, which introduces several key characters and their back stories. Perspectives and settings shift from chapter to chapter, similar to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, and, as in those books, it takes a while to see how everything fits together. But Boutwell is a masterful worldbuilder, packing his gripping tale full of rich, creative details that should thrill genre fans, from the shadowy, anonymous Solons, who rule the Unity, to a race of subterranean tunnel dwellers whose society is structured like a union with rituals involving the recitation of poetry (the novel is dense with literary references). The sci-fi trappings should draw readers in, but Boutwell’s sharp writing will keep them turning the page. When he describes a voice as “old and cracking as if taken out of a box just for this occasion,” he proves he can make even quieter moments come alive.
A vividly imagined sci-fi epic.