City of Savages


Author: Lee Kelly

Publication: 2015, Saga Press

Pages: 406

Overall Rating:

Rating for Action:

Quantity of Action:

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Phee and Sky are sisters in a dying New York City ten years after the start of World War III.  While the spend the summers alone with their mother, every fall they have to report to Central Park for the annual POW census and spend the winter under the watchful eyes of the Warden – Rolladin – and her army of whorelords.  But when strangers arrive in the park, bringing with them an impossible secret, it changes everything.  And soon Sky and Phee are on the run for their lives as they try to make sense of a world they no longer understand. 

Age of Main Character: 16

What I Liked the Most: Kelly takes an interesting approach with two first person points of view, alternating chapters from the perspective of Phee and Sky.  The two sisters are inseparable, and yet their personalities couldn’t be more different, which means that as readers we’re treated to a constantly shifting perspective on their world, their future, and the choices they’ll have to make.  It keeps the story fresh and helps us to see the scarred, dying landscaping alternately as a horror show world from which we’re desperate to escape and a familiar home filled with energy and excitement. 

Kelly also provides us with a varied palate of characters displaying all the different ways in which people might react to life in the midst of an apocalypse – the cannibals, the raving preacher pushing purity and a new contract with God, the hardened warriors, the servile followers looking only to survive.  It’s a topsy turvy world and the farther Sky and Phee venture from home the more of it we get to see.

Finally, interspersed among the chapters are snippets from their mom’s secret journal that slowly unravel the story of New York City in the early months of the war, and help us to better understand the foundations for Sky and Phee’s new world, revealing long held secrets and dark truths that will alter their lives forever.

What I Liked the Least: In some ways, it feels like Kelly tries to take on too much here – to show too much of New York, too many different paths people have taken to survive.  What struck me most were the scenes involving the feeders or cannibals.  It’s a time tested concept – when the apocalypse comes, when people are starving and all hope is lost, there will always be some who will place their own survival above all else and turn to cannibalism.  But just because it’s been used in plenty of post-apocalyptic tales doesn’t make it any less true – or any less gruesome.  Kelly could have used it to great advantage here, and the when we first encounter the feeders she does manage to make it terrifying.  But only for an instant.  Then Sky, Phee, and their companions miraculously escape.  They flee down the tunnels with hardly a hint of anyone on their trail.  What could have been a long, dark, and terrifying dash for survival became short and frankly kind of ho-hum.  A wasted opportunity for darkness and depravity.  And while there is also talk of Raiders, we never actually encounter any.  It makes me wonder if Kelly might have been better off focusing on the threats and communities that she really wanted to emphasize here and dropping the rest.  But it’s a minor fault in an otherwise excellent book.

How Good was the Action? Midling.  There are moments of excitement, but as with the escape from the feeders they’re brief and all too fleeting.  There’s plenty of tension here, scenes brimming over with uncertainty and fear.  But this isn’t really a book to read for the action.

How Engaging was the Story? Kelly doesn’t an excellent job of getting inside Phee and Sky’s heads, and with the constantly shifting points of view and the regular stream of revelations trickling in from both the strangers and Mom’s journal, the world around them is in constant flux.  Everything they ever thought they knew gets challenged, and every time they think they might finally be safe the rug gets pulled out from beneath their feet.  It makes for a book that’s hard to put down.  

Overall Assessment: A grand, operatic vision of New York City as a nearly abandoned prison island in the years after World War III, full of warlords, fanatics, and cannibals.  While Kelly sometimes tries to stretch the story a little too far, it’s a fantastic read none-the-less and a world that’s all too easy to lose yourself in.

Profanity: Some.  Intermittent, but definitely there.

Sex: Nothing graphic.  There’s kissing, vague descriptions of two women fooling around, and plenty of fairly innocuous fantasizing.

Violence: People get stabbed and shot, but most of it’s not especially graphic.  There are a couple brief scenes of cannibalism.  But again, nothing at all graphic.  So the violence is there, but often more by suggestion than by bloody picture.

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