by Maurice Gee
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Reading level: YA
When Hari's father, Tarl, is sent off to Deep Salt -- a place from which nobody returns alive -- Hari vows to rescue him.
When Pearl is betrothed to a man she does not love, she and her maid, Tealeaf, make a daring escape.
When Hari's and Pearl's paths cross, they must come together to stop a terrible event that could spell disaster for their land.
Where do I even start with this one? To put it bluntly, it was awful. I'm not even sure I want to waste any more energy by reviewing it, but perhaps it'll be cathartic. (Warning: There WILL be spoilers.)
Things didn't start off too badly, at least as far as the plot went. In the beginning, we see Tarl (Hari's father) taken away to work in Deep Salt as a slave. This is the most dreaded of work assignments because nobody ever comes back alive. The setting for the book is a dystopian fantasy world that (in some ways) reminded me of Panem in The Hunger Games. There is a city populated by the rich (akin to HG's Capitol) surrounded by what are basically open-air prisons called the Burrows (similar to HG's Districts). Unfortunately, the world of Salt didn't seem very plausible to me, since it tried to combine too much in the way of technology. They still use horses and carts for transportation, yet their weapons are electrified. I suppose this could be because of the meshing of the cultures, but I still found it inconsistent. All the talk of horses and railway cars that have to be hauled up the mountain by hand... and then a jarring mention of a flatbed truck and batteries. Have these people had their equivalent of an Industrial Revolution or haven't they?
The plot seemed to get worse as the book went on, but the characters were uniformly awful from the start. I couldn't identify with either of the main characters, and I just couldn't care about them either. Hari was particularly unlikeable (he kicks his dog until it yelps, for crying out loud!) and Pearl was just bland. All the characters seemed to have flunked out of Social Skills 101; the dialogue was often stilted and juvenile. And everybody wanted to kill each other! Honestly... It was like a broken record with the men. Kill, kill, kill... That seemed to be their only thought. (Spoiler: What really made me realize how weak these characters were, though, was the ending. Hari and Pearl, despite having shown zero attraction to each other throughout the entire novel, somehow fumble their way through sex and get Pearl pregnant.)
The very worst part of Salt, though, was the way it was written. Both Hari and Pearl are telepathic, so much of their shared dialogue is silent. Unfortunately, this made for some very confusing dialogue because it was not set off from the rest of the text in any way. No quotation marks, no italics, no different font... Nothing. So there were paragraphs that contained both telepathic thought as well as regular text, and I sometimes had to read those passages multiple times to figure out what was dialogue and what was not and even who was speaking.
Aside from that, the writing just seemed very juvenile and condescending, and yet periodically overly verbose. Too many details, many of which weren't even relevant, just acted as padding for the thin story. And the way we find out the history of the country was so contrived it wasn't even funny: Hari tells the story back to the wizened old guru who taught it to him in the first place, with the latter gasping with his last breath that "It must be told." Come on. Pearl had lived such a sheltered life that she probably only knew the "official" version of events; it would have made more sense for Hari to tell the story to her.
This book came out in 2007 in New Zealand, so it's a bit older than the two books it reminded me of. As I mentioned previously, some of the setting reminded me of The Hunger Games. The character dynamic, on the other hand, reminded me a bit of Ship Breaker (so did the cover... the lettering for the title is almost identical!). However, The Hunger Games' setting was more consistent and the plot was meatier, and the character dynamic of street brat/rich girl was done far, far better in Ship Breaker.
Salt is the first book of a trilogy. The first chapter of the second book, Gool, was actually included in the back of Salt. I didn't read it. I've had more than enough of the world of Salt. It felt like an insult to my intelligence as a reader. And I don't think it would be appropriate to recommend it to younger readers because of the bad language and the sex. Overall, I got the feeling that this book was churned out to make money, with the publishers hoping that readers would be swayed by the author's experience and overlook the lack of character development and plot.
Overall: 1 out of 5