Book Review: Exodus

Exodus, by Julie Bertagna

(I read this a while ago but I’m posting today since I just finished the sequel.)

I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did, though that’s probably a feature of me rather than the book: I often find that science fiction books tend to raise some fascinating issues only to neglect them in favor of rather straightforward storytelling. I’m told commercial publishing likes character-centered fiction, which is what we get, even when the world around them is much more interesting.

This book has that problem. Set in a future in which humans face the loss of land as a result of global warming, a band of refugees sets out to find rumored floating sky cities. This immediately raised interesting questions (“what if there is no place to go after all?”; “if there is, will they welcome newcomers?”; “what if there isn’t room?”) which the book addresses with disappointing superficiality. More precisely, whatever answers there are are simply too easy – the philosophical questions at the heart of the matter deserved more attention, and certainly more balance. Characters opposed to the heroine in some way don’t really get a fair shake. The low point is when the book’s central question – what if you can only save a few out of many? – is one the bad guys have to answer but the good guys conveniently don’t.

On the plus side, the book had pretty good pacing and rarely lags. The prose is clean and moves along quickly, and handles multiple settings well without wasting time. Characterization is very good (approaching Hunger Games in many respects). There are a few flawed sections – the description of superstition in the early folks is incredibly one-dimensional, and the final act gets introduced maybe too fast. However, the writing isn’t holding this book back. [I’m generally not a fan of third-party-limited books that cheat by the occasional dip into the minds of others, but it’s unobtrusive enough here.]

This was certainly good enough to make me read the sequel, but I can’t help thinking that the author could have done much more than she ended up doing.

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