City of Savages by Kelly Lee

Kelly Lee

RATING: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Yay! A new sci-fi/fantasy imprint! Yay! The first book from the imprint (Saga Press, FYI) is young adult! Did I make grabby hands for it? Yes. Was I the first one to abduct it from my local (awesome) library? Sure was. Did I love it to bits? Kind of. As the first novel of their Spring 2015 list, it’s off to a great start. But I fear things need to get better in terms of content (and jacket copy writers) and not rest on their laurels with this post-apocalyptic Manhattan tale.

City of Savages starts in a post-war Manhattan, where the Red Allies have blown everything to bits, and the people of the former New York sequester themselves to Central Park in order to survive. Sky and Phee (two sisters born into the war, and in which the novel splits their POV) both long for something more; the warlords who rule the park and act as “police” for the survivors starts to enchant Phee into joining ranks. On the other hand, Sky feels claustrophobic, wanting to see what is beyond the borders of their island where Rolladin (head warlord) rules. When mysterious Brits show up to Central Park, it starts the domino effect—the girls and their mom are on the run, through the cannibalistic subway tunnels, burned out buildings, and obsessive cults.

While I appreciate the varying voices of the two sisters, Sky provided a far more compelling story than Phee. Stereotypical tough girl, badass Phee is old hat in YA. It’s been done, and there are ones who are way better—Katniss (to be obvious) and Tris (to give in to the Divergent love, that I never really understood). I found her impulsiveness frustrating, annoying, and without logic. Meanwhile, watching Phee from Sky’s point of view made her likeable, interesting, and mysterious. Sky’s desire and wanderlust, while noticing how inferior she is to her younger sister, was an intriguing dynamic to pursue. Quite frankly, the whole book should have been from Sky’s perspective. There were little to no reason to have Phee’s chapters when so few events happened that required the reader to live it through her eyes. And the parts that were needed (the end, for instance) could have easily been from Sky the whole time. Swap them, make Sky go into the building. Make Sky bargain with crazy cultists. Make Sky better.

The reason why I rant (and I am ranting) is that their POVs switched so often (every chapter, on the dot) that I became annoyed when I knew Sky’s chapter was ending and Phee’s started. It made for a dislikable read because the plot moved forward through Sky more than through Phee.

Sky also was the one to read more of their mom’s journal than Phee, which was where the back story and the world building happened. But was filled with cheap thrills (spoiler: Mary and their mom, hooking up, out of a traumatic experience?)

Unfortunately, City of Savages managed to tug on one of my pet peeves: surprise-less jacket copy. Let’s take a look at it real quick, for reference:

… Hungry for the truth, the sisters set a series of events in motion that end in the death of one of Rolladin’s guards. Now they’re outlaws, forced to join the strange Englishmen on an escape mission through Manhattan. Their flight takes them into subways haunted by cannibals, into the arms of a sadistic cult in the city’s Meatpacking District and, through the pages of their mom’s old journal, into the island’s dark and shocking past.

Cannibals? Check. Sadistic cult? Check. Anything else happen in the book? Nope. By the time I was 2/3 through the book and they hadn’t met that “cult” yet, I was thoroughly disappointed. I knew who sketchy Robert was. I knew where he was taking them. Their confusion and surprise was not met with the same betrayal and awe the characters felt. The shock of it was lost because I knew from the beginning; these girls were going to succumb to some post-war fundies. How easy would it have been to re-write the copy without it?

Insert keyboard smashing here.

This book was good. It clipped along at a fast pace, and it was interesting enough to keep me reading, but there were still its shortfalls: I eyerolled at Sky’s boy problems in the middle of escaping and this almost-but-not-quite rape scene was sure to cause people to get bristly at how Lee skirted the edge of not okay.


In the end, the tl;dr—if you like post-apoc/split POVs with strong female characters, you’ll probably dig this book. But it won’t wow you, and you probably are able to call all the “twists” before the characters even have an inkling that something is amiss.

IF YOU LIKED THIS BOOK, YOU MIGHT LIKE: Divergent by Veronica Roth, Wasteland by Susan Kim, Partials  by Dan Wells

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