3 out of 4 stars
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In The Last City of America, a virus has made most of the human population infertile, leading to widespread panic and decreased production. In the chaos, the United States government was disassembled, and the Seven Cities of America were established. Civilians were herded into these independently run cities to lead lives that contributed to the survival of humanity. However, corruption and oppression run deep in many of the cities; those in positions of power abuse it and those without go hungry. Meanwhile, there’s a plot coming from the secretive Rush University in Chicago that many destroy what’s left of the world.
This book is incredibly macabre and depressing. I find in fiction that you’re rarely dealing with a villain who sets out to destroy the world. They’re usually vengeful and angry or they think they’re doing the world a service. They usually have a reason for the things that they do. Not in Seven Cities. They want to wreak havoc for the funsies. The characters with any semblance of power in this show see people as their playthings and enjoy manipulating their lives. Pretty much every character in this book is insane. And while we’re talking about characters, we’re going to talk about how females are represented in the novel. There are few female characters, and none with any ambition. The women in this novel are in place as plot points to further the ambitions of the men in this novel. They need to be further fleshed out and less objectified in order to work as real characters.
Little effort is made at building and developing the world that the reader is dropped into. Immediately the author throws you in and starts to use vernacular that is confusing and given without context. There are hints toward events in the characters’ history and in the history of the Seven Cities that the reader has no knowledge of. For example, the doctors at Rush University talk about Kansas City a lot, but it takes a frustratingly long time to reach any point of exposition regarding KC. Or in Chicago. We get that everyone is miserable in Chicago and that it’s oppressive, and there are plenty of places that show the aftereffects of the terrible things that happen in Chicago, but it’s rare for the author to show us what happened to make these people that way and we never get an explanation of how the city spiraled.
The author did have a good understanding of long-term story development. Pacing is a skill usually lacking in debut authors, but his ability to effectively establish and follow the pace of the story kept it moving along without dragging it out. I’m not usually a fan of short chapter or changing character points-of-view every chapter, but I think he used it as an effective tool to share a story that is so geographically widespread and involving so many different players.
This book felt a little like A Song of Ice & Fire by George R.R. Martin. The chapters were structured in a similar style, the geographical breadth of the two stories was similar, and the political drama was reminiscent of Game of Thrones. The best example is that the men are sitting in their towers playing politics and trying to kill each other off while the real threat to everyone is in Kansas City in the form of a further mutated Hephaestus virus. These similarities aren’t necessarily good or bad, but it was fun to pick out things that I recognized.
Overall, I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars. I gave it a 3 because it’s a compelling story and it’s told well. The author has a clear style and voice to his writing and has a good understanding of how to pace a novel like this. I didn’t give it a 4 because some of the elements of the book were really frustrating to me, including a lack of exposition and how female characters are portrayed in the novel. Fans of science fiction and fantasy will really enjoy this book, but they should keep in mind how bloody and depressing it is. It’s not a story for the faint of heart.
The Last City of America
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