City of Savages
by Lee Kelly
Cover Artist: Getty Images / Eileen O'Donnell
Review by Katie Carmien
Saga Press Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781481410304
Date: 03 February 2015 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Sixteen years ago, the Red Allies--China and Russia--attacked America. Manhattan became a POW camp, ruled by the iron-handed warden Rolladin and her vicious warlords, menaced by raiders and the mutated, monstrous cannibals living in the subways.
Sisters Skyler and Phoenix have spent their whole lives here, living summers in freedom with their mother and winters under Rolladin's eyes. They're different as can be--Sky is a gentle dreamer, longing for the old world, while scrappy, tough Phee neither imagines nor wants anything else.
Then one day a group of British refugees arrives in Manhattan, and the news they bring shatters everything the girls have ever known. The war is over. The Red Allies are gone. Rolladin is a liar as well as a tyrant. Sky and Phee must band together with the Brits to get themselves and their mother out of the city--but Rolladin's not the only one with secrets, nor is she the only monster in Manhattan. Their world's not done changing yet.
This book felt somewhat middle-of-the-road to me. The characterization is great; the way Sky and Phee bounce off each other feels very real. Each individual sister is also likable and interesting. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, and, appreciably, neither is SuperTeen. They have realistic skill levels for people their age--Phee doesn’t suddenly become a pistol-slinging badass, for example. And they still manage to save the day despite that. They're smart, resourceful, and interesting to read about. Rolladin is also wonderful. She may be a vicious tyrant ruling the city through fear, but she truly believes that she's keeping "her" people safe by corralling them in Central Park. The unfolding of her true relationship with Sky and Phee's mother is also fascinating to read. I had no idea what it would turn out to be until it was revealed--but at that point, the reveal made perfect sense, tying into everything the reader had already been shown. And Sarah herself, both in the present and as revealed through her journal entries, is compelling. The boys are less so, but that's okay. Sky and Phee and their family carry the story, and I always wanted to know what was going to happen to them next.
However, the pacing is all over the place, and the rationale for the war is thin on the ground. China and Russia attacked the US for "economic reasons", but they are supposed to have done this in 2016, which is too close to the present to really make sense, as we are clearly not on the verge of war with China. The story could have benefitted by being set a lot further in the future.
The romance between Sky and Ryder felt more obligatory than anything else--as if Kelly finished her novel and then decided she ought to add a love triangle because this book is about teenagers in a dystopian world and therefore genre conventions call for one. I did like, however, that neither Sky nor Ryder declares their undying love; they like each other and they like kissing each other and that's fine, even if the reader doesn't get much leadup to that besides both of them liking books.
In the end, City of Savages was fun and worth the read, but by no means exceptionally good, nor a standout in its genre.