Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sci-Fi: Rivers by Michael Farris Smith

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date: September 10, 2013
Format: ARC
Source: GoodReads First Look
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 333
Reading time: four days

From the back of the ARC: A climate shift in the years following Hurricane Katrina has ravaged the Gulf Coast like never before. In response to the unrelenting storms and widespread devastation, the federal government instituted a boundary known as the Line, below which citizens can expect no aid. Those who stay behind do so at their own peril. Shattered by the loss of his wife and unborn child, Cohen has been unable to abandon their home, risking exposure to violent storms as well as roving mercenaries who prey upon survivors. One day he is attacked and left for head. His house ransacked, all his carefully accumulated food and supplies gone, and the few precious mementos of his wife and child now in the hands of strangers, Cohen summons his last reserves of strength to forge a new life above the Line. And to avenge all that he has lost.

My review: For most of the book, I felt like there was not much about it that distinguished it from other post-apocalyptic reads. The premise is different and interesting - I like speculative novels that play off of current issues - but, overall, the plot just didn't seem unique or memorable. If anything, it conjured up stereotypical ideas of Westerns with lots of shooting and a slightly chauvinistic air towards women.

The women in this book: they all seemed flat to me, but then, so did pretty much all of the characters. A group of women end up being central to sections of the plot, yet they are largely treated in relationship with their interactions with men - the one who falls in love with Cohen, the ones who are used as baby-makers for the man who keeps them captive, the one who lost her brothers or her husband. Cohen ends up with plenty of guns, yet instead of handing them out to the small group of women to help defend themselves, he hides the women away, unarmed, and relies solely on an inexperienced teenage boy as his companion in defense.

The one thing that ended up truly intriguing me about Rivers was how the "main character" seems to subtly switch partway through. The reader thinks he or she knows who Cohen is, but the further the book progresses, the less we seem to hear directly from him - we certainly don't learn all his secrets - and the more we hear from the character Mariposa. The conclusion to the story, especially, is a change in focus that in some ways makes me wonder whose story we were reading in the first place.

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