Drowned Cities saga: Tool of War by Paolo Bacigalupi

Paolo Bacigalupi‘s new novel, Tool of War, is a brilliant successor to Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities, which together form a series the author may not yet have finished. The setting of all three novels is a dystopian world in what may be the twenty-second or twenty-third century. Much of human civilization in the past is now underwater or absent from areas that are now intolerably hot. Fossil fuels have been totally depleted. For most of the planet’s remaining inhabitants, life is a constant struggle for bare survival. Runaway bioengineering has created vicious new predators. Government has failed nearly everywhere; only a few city-states (Shanghai, Lagos, Boston) remain intact and peaceful behind massive seawalls. A handful of mighty corporations dominate world trade.

The two characters at the center of the action are familiar to readers of the other two novels: Mahlia and Tool. The latter, the subject of the title, is a bioengineered “half man.” He was designed for battle, as the book’s title suggests, bioengineered to blend DNA from the planet’s most fearsome animal predators with that of a superb human warrior. His vision, his hearing, his ability to detect smell at enormous distances—all his senses are heightened far beyond human limits. And both his reflexes and his movements are faster than any other living creature’s. Tool is a “nightmare out of humanity’s primeval past, a monster of old, a creature re-emerged from the darkest myths of protohumans, when jungles had never been razed, and when apes still cowered from darkness and struggled to master fire. A monster with its own interests and agenda.”

Tool of War (Drowned Cities #3) by Paolo Bacigalupi ★★★★☆

The story is set primarily on North America’s mid-Atlantic Coast, now known as the Drowned Cities, and in Seascape, a prosperous metropolis located inland from old Boston. The city lies behind enormous seawalls that have held back the ocean. As the novel opens, Tool has mustered a huge army that consists mostly of teenagers that has been fighting and defeating the warlords who have dominated the Drowned Cities in the past. (Anyone who lives beyond the age of thirty is considered ancient in this perilous environment.) Headquartered in the ruins of the White House, near the new shore of the Atlantic Ocean, Tool has finally triumphed. He is now the undisputed overlord of the Drowned Cities.

At just this point the supremely powerful Mercier Corporation, a militarized commercial enterprise that virtually controls a quarter of the globe, locates Tool after a years-long search. Tool somehow represents a threat to the company’s supremacy. Without hesitation, Mercier’s military commander, General Caroa, orders missiles fired from drones above the coast to eradicate Tool’s headquarters, killing him in the process. Somehow, Tool survives. Though grievously wounded, he makes his way to the shoreline where Mahlia finds him. Tool had saved her life in the past. Without hesitation, she has him carried onto the clipper ship she owns, and they set sail for Seascape to obtain medical care for him. Frustrated that his target has lived, General Caroa pursues him with all the forces at his disposal.

Tool of War is marketed as a young adult novel. But the book is so full of violence and gore that I wonder whether it’s really suitable for teenagers. I suppose many video games that are popular among young people are equally bloody. But still. (Maybe I’m just too old to make this judgment.)

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