Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Review: Exodus by Julie Bertagna

I think it says something about me that I am continually drawn to books about dystopian future societies. Sure, I hope that our future is all sunshine and roses - after all, I don't want to be a Handmaiden like in The Handmaid's Tale or have brain lesions implanted during radical plastic surgery like in Uglies - but when it comes to books, I'll take the end of the world/government is evil scenario over almost any other.

Exodus takes place in the year 2100, after global warming has melted the polar ice caps and apparently drowned all of the land on Earth. As far as Mara Bell is concerned, all that is left of the world is her tiny island, Wing, which is rapidly being swallowed up by the still-rising waters. In order to escape the monotony of being trapped inside her small house during the storm season (a season which seems to get longer every year), Mara uses a piece of antique technology - a cyberwizz - to explore the ruins of a virtual-reality-type internet called the weave. It's while exploring these ruins one day that she makes a startling discovery: the citizens of Wing aren't the only people left alive on earth. After years of exploring weave in solitude, Mara stumbles across another entity, a person who has taken the cyber-form of a fox. He tells Mara he lives in the New World, a city called New Mungo that has been built on stilts high enough to rise above the waters and sturdy enough to support a civilization through the thrashing storms brought on by global warming.

When Mara tells her family and the rest of the community about her discovery, they are hesitant at first, but quickly realize they have no other choice but to try to reach New Mungo. The alternative is drowning with their tiny island.

A traumatic journey across the ocean leads to more trauma: a refugee camp made of boats, an uncountable number of people who are desperate for shelter within the safety of New Mungo, but aren't allowed in - not unless you are chosen during the Picking, a fate which no one is sure is a good or a bad thing.

Mara, wracked by guilt for having led her community into the horror of the refugee camp, makes a desperate attempt to gain entry into the city. She falls short of her goal, but is rescued by a "sea urchin," an orphaned boy who lives a wild life among the support pillars of New Mungo and on small islands that haven't succumbed to the rising ocean. Also living on the islands is a small civilization of Treenesters, people who live in what are possibly the last trees on earth, and believe they will be rescued from the islands when the Face in the Stone appears and can fulfill a prophecy. The Face in the Stone, it turns out, bears an uncanny resemblance to Mara.

Mara's adventure continues as she tries to devise a way to save not only the people of Wing from the boat refugee camp, but the treenesters as well. And when he treenester friend Gorbals, as well as the sea urchin who saved her, are taken by the New Mungo police in a Picking, Mara's quest leads her into the heart of danger: New Mungo itself.

Overall I found this to be a fun book, though there were some small problems with it. There wasn't always a lot of plot development leading up to a major event, so sometimes it felt like catastrophe upon catastrophe was befalling Mara with little reason. Also the beliefs of the treenesters seemed a little forced: the oldest of their clan is a woman who was a scientist before New Mungo was built; why would she suddenly start believing in some prophecy that was apparently made up of whole cloth? Legends and religions generally don't just spring up over night, but that's apparently what happened with the prophecy of the Face in the Stone.

At the end of it all, Exodus covers a lot of ground, but still leaves lots of questions unanswered. I just checked Wikipedia, source of all knowledge, and it says a sequel was published in 2007. Considering Exodus was originally published in 2002 and it just made it to America this year, who knows when we'll get the rest of the story.

The high point of the novel for me had to be when Mara was exploring an abandoned university that hadn't quite been submerged yet. The greatest legends, artists, thinkers and inventors throughout history were written about and depicted on the walls of the university - and there were hardly any women among them. When a woman appeared she was often a legendary figure, like the warrior queen Boudica. Hopefully in whatever future Mara builds for herself in Zenith, she will be remembered as a great and brave person.
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