Review by a9436 -- The Last City of America by Matthew Tysz

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Review by a9436 -- The Last City of America by Matthew Tysz

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[Following is a volunteer review of "The Last City of America" by Matthew Tysz.]
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3 out of 4 stars
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In 2066 came the Founding.

With the economy in ruins following a catastrophic drop in population, 2066 was the year in which the USA was replaced by the Seven Cities of America: Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Chicago. Forced to relocate to one of these struggling former metropolises, citizens were put to work, and by the time when Matthew Tysz’s main narrative picks up the thread almost fifty years later, a new sort of stable-yet-unstable normal had emerged.

The opening pages of The Last City of America paint a dystopian picture of the current fictional state of affairs, in which although the population is no longer plummeting, there are food shortages and frequent gunfights. The three west coast cities cooperate, as do their three counterparts on the east coast, yet Chicago is different, a dark and dangerous place full of fear and suspicion. It is in Chicago that the creator of Hephaestus, the virus responsible for the infertility epidemic, resides, consumed with hatred for humanity and a desire to ensure that his secrets live on in the knowledge of his apprentice, Harold. At the same time, Grakus, the city’s ruler, fancies himself as the destroyer of worlds and wants those secrets for himself.

Unrest, rebellion, power-hunger and apocalyptic dreams intertwine over the course of the book, as war and destruction rage across the seven cities. With a new-found compassion following the death of his mentor and a painful journey of self-reflection behind him, Harold finds himself facing a final showdown against Grakus, with potentially devastating consequences.

As a fan of dystopian fiction in general, as well as having a strong interest in reproductive rights, I was instantly drawn to this novel’s blurb, and whilst the focus was not entirely on the population size as I had hoped, I nevertheless liked the book. Despite The Last City of America belonging to the science fiction genre, I found the inclusion of other, monster-creating viruses to be superfluous to the plot. Rather, it was the elements of post-Hephaestus everyday life that I was best able to relate to, such as Maggie’s childhood longing for menstruation as a sign of potential motherhood, and Adam’s attempts to build community spirit in the face of poverty. I empathised with Angela as she proudly clung on to her reproductive autonomy, whilst Morgan’s guilt at having taken desperate measures in the name of a better future was heartbreakingly described, albeit it in the author’s quite choppy style, which might not be to all readers’ tastes. The power struggles were all too real, and I found myself asking what could, and would, happen should such a single virus find its way into my own, real-life, society; at times I almost had to remind myself that this is a work of fiction.

On the other hand, these moments of total indulgence were easily broken by the frequent changes in focus from character to character. Tysz opted not to divide the novel into chapters, but to dedicate one to four pages at a time to the story of one character, and whilst this had the positive effect of demonstrating that inter-connected problems were facing those of every status in every city, it did break the flow of the narrative. When reading a digital copy, it was difficult to resist using the search function to find a name and jump ahead to the next part of a specific storyline. The switch from first to third person narratives was at times a little frustrating too, but mainly because I am a fan of consistency of this type. Overall, I am inclined to say that too many characters were introduced too quickly; I sometimes had to scroll back to refresh my memory as to who exactly was who, and due to the sheer amount of personalities involved there are a few smaller sub-plots which were not completely concluded by the end of the book. Amongst others, readers meet politicians, anarchists who resisted relocation to the seven cities, students, soldiers, scientists, a hospital administrator, a psychic and even a wizard, all of whom are described in a captivating manner, yet there are just too many names to remember and too much to cover in what is already a very long book.

As stated above, the writing style is short and choppy, with lots of sentence fragments, although as much of the text is either dialogue or the thought processes of characters, I am inclined to be quite forgiving of this. The author portrays intense emotions as characters both question their own moral compasses and express extreme anger, and in my experience, there are very few people who speak of think in full, coherent sentences under such conditions. For this reason, I did not find the profanities problematic either, given that these occurred within descriptions of, or reactions to, extreme torture, whilst the references to sex and graphic descriptions of violence both furthered the plot rather than adding only sensationalism.

The Last City of America
is a story of a war in which the human aims, emotions and personal struggles are very visible. Tysz paints a believable picture of how such a devastated country could look, and the problems and drastic measures which could very likely arise as a result of a virus like Hephaestus, and I was compelled to read on, albeit sometimes in the wrong order! I recommend the book to fans of dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels set on Earth, who are not averse to both romantic and violent aspects playing a large role in such a story, and who are of high school age and above. Furthermore, I suggest that it is beneficial to read the book over a short time span, in order to keep track of the large cast of characters efficiently.

I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars, deducting one star as I feel that some sub-plots could have been omitted to avoid the issue of loose ends; Hephaestus alone is devastating enough to inspire the main storyline.

The Last City of America
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