This third book in a major series by a bestselling science fiction author, Printz Award winner, and National Book Award finalist is the gripping story of the most provocative character from his acclaimed novels Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities.
Tool, a half-man/half-beast designed for combat, is capable of so much more than his creators had ever dreamed. He has gone rogue from his pack of bioengineered “augments” and emerged a victorious leader of a pack of human soldier boys. But he is hunted relentlessly by someone determined to destroy him, who knows an alarming secret: Tool has found the way to resist his genetically ingrained impulses of submission and loyalty toward his masters… The time is coming when Tool will embark on an all-out war against those who have enslaved him. From one of science fiction’s undisputed masters comes a riveting page-turner that pulls no punches.
“Suzanne Collins may have put dystopian literature on the YA map with ‘The Hunger Games’…but Bacigalupi is one of the genre’s masters, employing inventively terrifying details in equally imaginative story lines.” –Los Angeles Times
Description taken from Goodreads.
The first book in the Ship Breaker series came out when I was in elementary school. At the time, I read the book and liked the prose, but it ultimately wasn’t for me. The style wasn’t what I was looking for, and I ended up passing on Bacigalupi’s later works (with the exception of The Doubt Factory, which wasn’t exactly my favorite novel of 2014).
Looking back, I needed time to mature as a reader and to find a Bacigalupi story that really spoke to me, and I found that in Tool of War.
It’s been eight years since I read Ship Breaker, and I forwent The Drowned Cities, so I had little to no background in this series. Despite that, I fell straight into this story and its characters. Bacigalupi’s world-building is seamless. Each character is introduced as someone with a simple archetype that gradually takes on flesh and blood over the course of the story. Unsurprisingly, a prime example of that is Tool.
Tool of War begins with the quick rise of Tool as the emperor of the Drowned Cities, a dark land long ripped apart by warring factions. No sooner has he found peace in the land than he is bombed within an inch of his life by his former masters, and he sets out to recover and take them down.
Tool initially presented as a half-feral beast who thrives on war, bloodlust, and vengeance. Tiny moments when he shows his humanity, like when he thinks about being a good ruler to the orphan soldiers of the Drowned Cities, or when he protects the people who have helped him through diplomacy instead of violence, demonstrate that he’s more than that. Bacigalupi’s writing creates scenes that are at once both foreign and familiar. His ability to do so draws empathy for strange characters and faraway lands because, through the greatest power that literature has, they’re suddenly not-so-strange and not-so- far away.
That’s not to say that the story isn’t action and adventure at its core. It is–very much so. The story is perfectly paced. While there are times when Tool has to rest or long discussions have to be had, Bacigalupi structures them so that I never felt that the lag. I was also impressed by the deaths of supporting characters here and there. Middle-grade and YA are oftentimes afraid to kill anyone, even in stories where the setting demands it, creating a sense of childishness and artificiality that breaks the story. This is not the case with Tool of War, where supporting characters that I’d come to love were killed off, sacrifices were made, and people were left behind. The writing was mature and honest, and I felt that Bacigalupi was true to the story he had to tell without being brutal. I would be comfortable recommending this story, reading maturity -wise, to anyone who’s read, enjoyed, and understood The Hunger Games.
On that note, Tool of War was mentioned alongside The Hunger Games in the blurb. Which one do I love more? No contest, The Hunger Games, and it’s not because I don’t love other dystopian novels more than THG. It’s because, as much as I was impressed and entertained by Tool of War, it still lacks feeling for me. There’s a certain detached nature to Bacigalupi’s writing that makes it difficult to truly believe that what I’m hearing, thinking, seeing are 100% real. Maybe it’s the matter-of-fact tone or it’s me still needing time or needing to find the right book of his, but I would love to find out.
Overall, I really enjoyed this one. It wasn’t everything, but it was highly entertaining, easy to understand even though it’s the 3rd book in the series, and complex enough to analyze on a literary level. I’ll be looking into more of Bacigalupi’s work, and I’m glad to have rediscovered his writing. 3.5 stars.