City of Savages by Lee Kelly (Saga Press, Feb. 3rd, 2015)-Manhattan is still in ruins even though it’s been almost 20 years since the Red Allies invaded and WWIII was waged. Sky and her younger sister, Phee (short for Phoenix), live with their mother Sarah in various abandoned apartments during the summer, but winter in Central Park, under the watchful eye of Rolladin, who is in charge of the POW camp that still operates so many years later. While it’s not an easy life, it’s not an unhappy one, but the events of one day change everything, and the bonds between the sisters may never be the same. Fate soon finds the sisters and their mother on the run from the POW camp, with the promise of sanctuary their goal. But, sanctuary may be anything but, and in fact, may be much worse than what they fled. They do have some new friends from across the ocean, hinting at a life outside of the city, and a handsome boy in the group has Phee and Sky at odds, in a time when they need to be united more than ever before.
What a great debut for the newly minted Saga Press! There’s a lot of awesome in this book, especially for those that enjoy post-apocalyptic narratives. The subway tunnels are dark, dangerous, and anything but abandoned, and one of the most terrifying scenes is set there. Rolladin, who runs the POW camp, is a compelling figure, surrounded by her warlords, all female (referred to as “whorelords” by Phee), draped in the pelts of zoo animals, and rules with an iron fist. However, it’s obvious from the beginning that she harbors an odd sort of affection for the girls and their mother. As life changing as the turn of events that find them on the run is the discovery of their mother’s diary, begun right as the war itself started, and that diary is compelling, to say the least. Their mother has been notoriously tightlipped about the early days of the war, insisting that the past is best left in the past, and the sisters are hungry for any clues about the past, and of course, any information on their father, who supposedly got separated from their mother as the city began to fall.
Yes, this has the attraction of being a post-apocalyptic story, but it’s really the story of Phee and Sky, and is told in alternating narrative, which not only paints a complete picture of the sisters, but also about their bond, and the things that threaten to tear it apart. Phee is younger, but is physically strong and has an iron will. She’s not thoughtless, but is more willing to act on her instincts than is the older, more contemplative Sky, whose love of books has led to a rich internal fantasy world, and a longing to break out of the confines of the city in which she’s spent her entire life. The pace is fast, and the story is interspersed with their mother’s diary entries, which start to fill in some blanks that have the sisters reeling. Revelations and danger abounds, and Phee doesn’t shy away from using violence if it means protecting her family. This is adventure at its most terrifying best, and explores the sisters’ relationship in a very real way, and the strength of their love even as jealousy and the desire for security threatens it. There’s a bit of romance, but that isn’t the focus, and I loved that sisterhood and friendship was the focus of this tense, exciting novel. Snap this one up, and prepare to be riveted.