Monday, August 8, 2011

Arty -- The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

"Fields of white opium poppies stretch away over the hills, and uniformed workers bend over the rows, harvesting the juice. This is the empire of Matteo Alacran, a feudal drug lord in the country of Opium, which lies between the United States and Aztlan, formerly Mexico. Field work, or any menial tasks, are done by "eejits," humans in whose brains computer chips have been installed to insure docility. Alacran, or El Patron, has lived 140 years with the help of transplants from a series of clones, a common practice among rich men in this world. The intelligence of clones is usually destroyed at birth, but Matt, the latest of Alacran's doubles, has been spared because he belongs to El Patron. He grows up in the family's mansion, alternately caged and despised as an animal and pampered and educated as El Patron's favorite." - from Amazon's Review

Yes, I stole Amazon's review again. It's a hard book to summarize - like Frank Beddor's The Looking Glass Wars, it's more of a modern mini-epic than a normal novel, with no one big change and no one big showdown. It just keeps going and going, like the Energizer Bunny.

Okay, that doesn't sound too complimentary, so before you get any wrong ideas, let me make it plain that this was an awesome book to me. I can easily see how some people might not like it - it is not your typical action-filled sci-fi adventure. I told Persy it's more like a character-driven dystopian/sci-fi novel than just a sci-fi. That sounds horrible, too, but Nancy Farmer really makes it work with everything that Matt and his friends and enemies go through.

Do clones have souls? Should they really be treated like people? If you have power, why not use it? If there are people in pain and suffering, why not make them mindless slaves who can't suffer any more? Questions, questions, questions. Usually this turns me off right away, especially if I see it pointed out as a positive in a review. Never to fear, the questions are so integral to the story that you don't even see them as questions. Just necessary problems for Matt to tackle.

Matt. I loved Matt. Flawed - he has to be, as clone of the 'Vampire of Opium' - but idealistic and intelligent, too, he displays a balance of good and bad that finally tips to good like any great hero. I just love him, if I haven't said so already.

The other characters are great too. Celia, Matt's adoptive mother of sorts, who seems sweet and grandmotherly at first, but shows a surprising backbone. Tam Lin, the Scottish bodyguard Matt chooses to watch over him, who has a disturbing past. Even El Patrón isn't a totally bad guy - which somehow makes him even scarier when he is bad. The only characters I didn't like were María and Felicia. María is your typical spunky love interest - pretty, doesn't take no for an answer, stubborn, critical... and she cries all the time. Matt deserved better. And Felicia was just... creepy.

I found a little fault with the ending. Again paralleling The Looking Glass Wars, it felt rushed and a little too easy. Still, Farmer redeems herself in the last few pages, and while marring my memory of the book a bit, it wasn't as bad as many that I've read.

So if you're in the mood for both a bit of sci-fi and a bit of a thought-provocation and a lot of great character building, read The House of the Scorpion.

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