This was a somewhat less awesome version of the first book. It’s still enjoyable, but it’s got less going on while repeating a very similar plot. The main difference is that this one is less self-contained and ends with things unresolved – it’s honestly a decent enough ending for a middle book rather than just abruptly cutting off once the author hit the page count requested, but there’s numerous things set up that haven’t gone through yet.
This book focuses on the frozen north, and we learn more about America. We spend much of the book on a pacifist city, which moves but only to avoid predation and survives on……….? And apparently it’s such an amazing prize that the local predators want it intact. It just doesn’t work well with the dicotomy of the previous book, where the cities are pushed to be predatory because you need to hold still to grow food but as resources run out and fewer predators are left, more and more of the tiny survivors are trying to find a safe place to be still and go back to being settled cities. Here, we focus on a mary sue city that somehow has fuel to run all over the place without devouring anything smaller and seems to never even have been tempted, and also their city is a marvel of engineering, and all without keeping any slaves either.
In contrast, they don’t appear to have been doing anything useful in the two years between last book and now, down to doing business on even extra-evil predatory cities. Their concession to morality was keeping their airship unarmed, not something useful like only trading with regular evil cities.
Meanwhile in the rest of the setting, things are getting ever more dire, with cities now offering rewards if airships report the locations of other cities. This is one of the many things that could stand to be better developed – once again, we see reference to a code of conduct that’s been keeping things halfway stable, but the work wasn’t done to sell it as a longstanding part of their culture. The airships could so easily betray cities without reprisal – not only is there no way for the other city to find out who told, but the other city will soon be gone anyway. You can absolutely have a society that rationalizes their atrocities by saying at least they don’t do that sort of thing, but like last book, we never really get that, just the naive boy being shocked the rules that supposedly existed are now being flouted.
It’s particularly disappointing given we find out about it in the same book as we discover the anti-devouring-cities people have become way more militant and that there’s at least one special mary sue city that doesn’t eat people at all. Given that the devouring is a slight net gain to one city at the cost of the very existence of another, and given the antis have lots of airships, why don’t they just start reporting the positions of smaller devouring cities to larger ones? And, if they’re worried the biggest might get too big and dangerous if they’re fed so much so fast, then finish it off by sending them off on wild goose chases to waste all their fuel or, in the case of the north, through the ice to drown.
Instead of that, we get this whole subplot about how there’s another city that’s now operating on parasitism, sending out submarines with kids to latch onto cities, steal a bunch of stuff (and kids), then drop off and head back home. It’s interesting but doesn’t seem to go anywhere and ultimately seems only there to smooth over unrelated bits of plot – how does Tom learn his girlfriend did, indeed, totally see him making out with another girl? Submarine boy sneaks out to tell him! Or, he could just have tried to go see her given the storm had ended and feeling guilty about the kiss. How does Tom find her again and without dying? Submarine guy has a convoluted plan that involves sending him in to be caught, and then submarine boy screws up that plan and gives them a chance to escape. Or, the author could’ve said the other airship could be modified for longer trips and he could’ve left like that and ended up with some anti-anti-devouring city people trying to assault the place while they run around in circles waiting for their cyborg zombie former leader to suddenly turn back into her old self despite being a cyborg zombie now. Ultimately, the escape plan was just that chaos let the cyborg zombie loose and then it let them go, so it really doesn’t require a secret submarine city that happens to be led by the guy who got her as a slave back before the cyborg zombie thing and then got kicked out by his family when she escaped and so is obsessed with reenslaving her corpse now that she’s a cyborg zombie. Finally, they end up with a map when submarine boy returns to the city that shows that maybe some few bits of America are intact and…couldn’t lying not-explorer guy have just had that on him? That’d be a bit easier.
I mean, the basic idea of parasites works, but its role in the plot is mostly just to deus ex machina around, and it’s also hard to swallow the idea no one’s ever found out about it before now. Mary sue city it makes sense – they were just hit by a plague that seems to have killed off most of the population, so plenty of unattended valuables left around and lots of empty areas. But most cities seem to be packed with people and we’re even reminded they’re so resource poor that they have trouble believing our landfills were landfills and not offerings to our gods. It’d just make so much more sense for the parasites to be a known features and probably having a much operating out of different subs rather than one guy the plot turns on for some reason.
And in terms of characters, our new major characters for the book are again an upper class girl who Tom thinks is super great and prompts love triangle shenanigans, and an engineery boy who actually ends up with her. We also have a stalker, but this time it’s a new one made of someone we knew rather than an old one seeking to turn someone we know into one. Also, to my disappointment, the book went the inevitable route of blood being all with poor Hester going on about how she’s Valentine’s daughter all cold and murdery. I mean, it’s understandable she might feel like this given how much she’s getting it yelled at her and the stress she’s under, but the book seems to be embracing it. I did like that she tried the shitty thing usually reserved for boys of betraying everyone with the plan of fake-rescuing her love interest to get them back.
So, overall, it was enjoyable but it plagiarized itself. I am curious where it’s going given that we end this book with an especially insane stalker in charge of an extra militant branch of the anti-devouring people and with the ability to make even more lethal stalkers that usual at will. That seems it’ll go well.