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City of Savages by Lee Kelly

City of Savages

by Lee Kelly

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 5 of 5
Good book! Told alternately by two sisters with very different personalities who are nonetheless close though they have their differences. ( )
  NatalieSW | Nov 24, 2016 |
I still rest on what I said during an update: Sky's POV > Phee's POV. ( )
  s.pando | Nov 4, 2016 |
I still rest on what I said during an update: Sky's POV > Phee's POV. ( )
  s.pando | Nov 4, 2016 |
This is a story about family, and about Sisters Doin It For Themselves. It is also about a post-apocalyptic dystopia, set in Manhattan following a devastating war in the near future apparently started by China after a year of worldwide droughts and tension over trade.

In the summer, Sarah Miller and her daughters Sky (Skylar) 17, and Phee (Phoenix), 16, survive as they can, hunting the offspring of animals that were let loose from the zoo, or killing squirrels, or living off the small garden they have made on the roof of the abandoned building they inhabit. In the winter, all survivors in Manhattan (382 at the last census), officially prisoners of war, are required to come live in Central Park, where they all help work large farms and share food and lodging.

The “Warden” of these POWs is a woman called Rolladin, who rules with an iron hand, although she seems to have some sort of special relationship to Sarah and her children. Rolladin also has a guard called warlords (the girls call them “whorelords”) who help keep discipline, and who provide, it is believed, lovers to Rolladin.

The story begins on Phee’s sixteenth birthday, which is also the day of the mandatory annual census. Sarah wants the family to make a stop first to show them their old apartment where Sky was born, and while there, Sky finds a diary apparently written by her mom, and secretly takes it with her. Sarah will never talk about the past before the war, and the girls are desperate to know what happened.

Meanwhile, Rolladin, who is a firm believer of the time-tested bread and circuses method of rule, organizes yearly “games” in the park after the census. These games are actually brutal fights between warlords and would-be warlords. Because the Miller family is late for the census (Sarah sprained her ankle on the way back from the apartment), Rolladin punishes them by insisting one of them participate in the fights. Phee, the fiercest of the three, volunteers. To everyone’s surprise, she does well (even though she is saved from certain death at the end by Rolladin).

Phee considers what it would mean if she were to become a warlord, because her mother despises Rolladin. But she never has a chance to find out; several days later, some men are captured outside the park, bringing shocking secrets with them. The truth they bring changes everything, and the nature of survival changes radically for them.

Discussion: The story is told by alternating narration between Phee and Sky, and by excerpts from Sarah’s diary. The book has the pacing of a thriller, with plenty of twists (albeit with some - but not all - being fairly obvious). The author does a good job of making the two girls very dissimilar (Phee is mostly about emotion and Sky about reason) without stripping them of complexity. In addition, she nicely conveys the way in which the love and loyalty the members of the Miller family feel for one another transcend any differences.

And while the book employs plenty of “the usual” post-apocalyptic dystopia tropes and clichés, the author still manages to put a unique stamp on the story, first by the way in which she brings Manhattan to life as a prison, and secondly, by the way in which women dominate the action.

This book is marketed as adult science fiction, whereas I would put it in the YA/Adult post-apocalyptic category. I see no reason for it to be called “science fiction” and unfortunately, I think that will probably limit the audience. ( )
  nbmars | May 20, 2015 |
A Wild Ride through Post-Apocalyptic Manhattan

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review from the publisher. Trigger warning for rape and violence.)

"Somehow this ruthless city is home to my sister. Where for me, it will never, ever be more than a cage."

"If no one's out there, then what's keeping us in?"

Sisters Skyler and Phoenix Miller were born and raised in Manhattan; from the wild forests of Central Park to the gleaming glass apartments in Battery Park, the island is the only home they've ever known. But their home is also their prison. Along with several hundred fellow survivors, Sky and Phee are prisoners of war: World War III, in which the Red Allies (China, North Korea, and Russia) simultaneously attacked New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco, with the ultimate goal of conquering the United States. That was more than sixteen years ago, in March of 2016, and still the war rages on.

When Manhattan was first attacked, a lucky few survivors found safety in the subway tunnels - including their mother, Sarah. But as the months dragged on and supplies dwindled, many of the refugees were forced to the surface, to beg the Red Allies for mercy. Though most of the men were shot on sight, the women and children were imprisoned in cages once meant for lions and tigers: the Central Park Zoo, now transformed into an internment camp.

Eventually a leader emerged in the form of Rolladin, who persuaded their captors to move them to the relative comfort of the Carlyle Hotel. As the war dragged on and the soldiers combed the wreckage of NYC for "holdouts" - tunnel feeders and raiders - the POW camp grew. Eventually, when the Red Allies withdrew to follow the war west, Rolladin and her "whorelords" - warlords recruited from the prison population - were left in charge, to manage this "oasis in the middle of a war zone." While no doubt an improvement over enemy occupation, Rolladin is an unyielding and oftentimes cruel warden, seemingly drunk on power. And yet she has a strange and inexplicable affinity for the Miller family.

The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Sky and Phee: Sky, the older, more delicate and bookish sister, who dreams of worlds far away; and Phee, an impulsive, tough-as-nails scrapper who cannot imagine living anywhere else. When the Camp's relative calm is disrupted by the arrival of four mysterious strangers, the sisters must work together to uncover the truth about the island's past, present, and future - a truth that's tangled up in their mother's past, which she keeps so closely guarded. (Luckily, Sky discovers and steals her journal, so we're blessed with Sarah's voice as well!)

But that's only the first half of the story. Their journey carries them all over the island; they're pursued on the surface by Rolladin and her warlords, and hunted through the tunnels by cannibals gone mad with hunger and darkness; crushed under one dictator's thumb, only to find themselves in the clutches of a creepy cult leader. Just when they - and we - think it can't get any worse, it does. It's a wild ride with a true Godzilla vs. Mothra ending. (As in SPN episode 4.10:

DEAN: I got to hand it to you, Sammy. Bringing them all together all at once -- angels and demons. It was a damn good plan.

SAM: Yeah, well, when you got Godzilla and Mothra on your ass, best to get out of their way and let them fight.)

City of Savages has more of a YA feel than I expected (given the brutal title and description), but that's not a bad thing. I loved the sibling rivalry between Sky and Phee, two very different young women who share an unbreakable bond despite their dissimilarities; as the oldest of four kids, I can definitely relate. Delicate, inquisitive, and classically beautiful, in the world Before, Sky might have been a model or a writer - whereas Phee, with her big mouth and bigger fists, was all but made for this new, savage world. The juxtaposition of these opposing traits - old vs. new, then vs. now - in siblings so close they're practically two halves of a whole is intriguing; I can't help but wonder where each girl might be had WWIII somehow been avoided.

But. Once Kelly adds Ryder to the equation, things get a little annoying. It's not so much the sisters competing over a guy that bothers me - but when you're prioritizing romance over escape from a psychopath who murders and rapes in the name of G-O-D, then yeah. That's a little over the top ridiculous.

Though there doesn't seem to be much racial diversity in City of Savages, there's a marvelous plot line wherein the girls' mom, Sarah, falls in love with her husband's sister, Mary. The two were taking Sky to the zoo when the war broke out; subsequently, they were trapped underground for seven months, during which time Mary cared for this little family. While she never knew her father, Sky is outraged on his behalf upon reading about the affair in Sarah's journal; Phee, on the other hand, adopts a more pragmatic approach - basically, it's not cheating if you think he's dead. This might be the only time I took Phee's side in the whole book.

(To quote one of my status updates: Phee's a bit of a shit, isn't she? Older sister talking.)

Kelly's world building is wonderful as well: from the farms in Central Park to the tiny wilderness that blossoms along the Hudson River to the use of the zoo as an internment camp/prison, she paints a world rich and vivid with detail. While I was able to correctly guess at some of the plot twists (Sarah + Mary; The Standard), others came as a complete shock (the exact nature of the relationship between Rolladin and the Millers; I thought that Phee might be Rolladin's daughter, perhaps with Tom).

Some of the language rubbed me the wrong way, though. For example, the word "bully" pops up with weird frequency, usually to describe behavior that's far beyond bullying: rape, torture, war crimes.

And the story wraps up with a page from Sarah's journal, now in Sky and Phee's possession licitly: "I will give them a chance at a real life in this city that's been raped and left for dead." Nope. No. No thank you. Just no.

A city is an insentient object - a collection of bricks and concrete and cable wires and trees - and as such cannot be "raped." Its citizens can be raped, sure; and many of them were, including Sarah. (Many, but not all, which also disqualifies the use of "city" as shorthand for every person therein.) But let's not minimize their experiences by misusing the term in such a way that promotes rape culture, okay?

Things that are rape: Rape.

Things that are not rape: War. Bombing. Internment. Cannibalism. Murder. Logging. Habitat loss. Pollution. Taxes. Losing in a video game. Getting an F on a test. Someone bogarting your weed. You get the idea.

http://www.easyvegan.info/2015/05/04/city-of-savages-by-lee-kelly/ ( )
  smiteme | Apr 22, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lee Kellyprimary authorall editionscalculated
McCartney, MichaelCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shea, ValerieCopy editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For my sisters, Bridget and Jill. With them, there would be no Phee and Sky.
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