Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Review: City of Cannibals by Ricki Thompson

Found via: Publisher's Weekly 1/18

I'll admit, I picked this one up thinking it was going to be some creepy science fiction-y thing (potentially where cannibals=zombies). Spoiler alert: this is not the case. In fact, it's kind of the opposite - historical fiction. But despite the lack of zombies, it's still an enjoyable read.

Dell lives an isolated like in the hills with her father, brother and aunt. They eke out a meager existence with the help of "the Brown Boy" who drops off goods for the family on a monthly basis. With her mother long dead, Dell's father abuses and berates her, apparently for the crime of reminding him too much of her mother. But she stays with her family out of fear of the cannibals she has been told live in the city below. But after one episode of cruelty too many, Dell finally strikes out on her own, determined to find the Brown Boy who she is sure will protect her.

The city Dell lives above is London, which isn't populated by cannibals, but is filled with more people, stink, and filth than Dell has ever imagined. With the help of a few friendly folks, Dell finds places to sleep, earns a few coins for food, and finds the Brown Boy. She also learns that her family was once well known in the city - until her mother's tragic death forced her father to take the family into the hills.

The setting is an interesting one - it's 1536, right when King Henry VIII was breaking his ties with the Catholic church. The Brown Boy Dell is searching for is actually a novice monk, which periodically brings the church schism to the forefront, as the monks refuse to pledge their loyalty to the king and would rather risk death than turn their backs on their religion. So the danger in this story is on two levels - the inherent danger of being all alone in unfamiliar territory on one, and then the institutional danger of a society in upheaval.

There's naturally a love story element to this book, but I wasn't that fond of it. Ronaldo the monk seems a bit too quick to drop his vows to the church, specifically that chastity one, if you know what I mean. And then there's an infuriating period where Dell is convinced she's led Ronaldo to sin. It takes two to tango, sweetie, and while Dell is the pursuer in the beginning of the relationship, by the time it turns physical that's all Ronaldo's idea. Of course, this just proves that sexual double standards are at least older than steam.

But that's really a minor quibble with an overall interesting work. I enjoy reading historical fiction that's set somewhere or sometime different than a lot of other books. The only other historical fiction I know of set during Henry VIII's reign is The Other Boleyn Girl, and while the time period is roughly the same, they might as well take place in two different world's since City of Cannibals is never near the intrigues of the court. (Also, City of Cannibals appears to be more historically accurate)
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