“The burn was the first rite of passage.”
Man! Strap in when you open this novel, because you are in for an intense ride! The Salt Line is everything a solid dystopian novel should be.
We learn that the burn referred to in the first sentence, is the burn of a Stamp. A small device that kills the lethal female miner tick and any disease or eggs she has implanted in your body. Kills it, as long as it is administered in time.
This is presented to us through a class, given by an outdoor extreme trainer, getting ready to take a small group of wealthy adventurers beyond the Wall and out of their safe zone. Exciting right?
As the training unfolds, we get to know the characters and through them a picture of the society we are in begins to emerge. We know that what was once America is now divided into zones. Currently, we are in the Atlantic zone, one of the more stable and thriving zones. We learn that other zones are not faring as well. These zones were put into place after this miner tick and the outbreak of a deadly disease began to run rampant.
“The thing was, you hoped like hell to be in a zone as clean and safe as Atlantic, and if by birth or luck or talent you got in one, you stayed put — because the rules kept changing, the quarantines and security measures kept getting revised.”
There is an art when writing dystopian, to drawing your reader into the new world while also giving them some idea of why it emerged. Sometimes books can get too bogged down in the history, making them feel clunky and bloated. And other times, we don’t get enough of a sense of the past to make sense of the future. This novel; however, gets that balance absolutely right.
Jones gives us the history of the society while also introducing us to each character. And some pieces of information are done within dialogue, so the effect is so subtle, I found myself flipping back to make sure I didn’t miss these details. While I can appreciate that perhaps this isn’t a style some readers enjoy, for me, it added a rich texture that made the novel completely suck me in. Each character was able to add context through their own experiences, and so Jones was able to really provide a lot of depth to not just their individual past, but the overall zones as well.
The other thing I loved about this novel is that there are so many strong women! Evie and Marta are the first main characters we meet, and though they are presented as a rockstar’s girlfriend and a mobster’s housewife, their strength and vibrancy go far beyond their societal descriptions. We also meet Wes, a young CEO, arguably the wealthiest and most influential man in the Atlantic zone. He seems to be at odds with himself to participate in this excursion, and yet is driven to succeed. It is through their eyes that we see the training and the initial moments of the excursion unfold.
This isn’t simply a dystopian where a group of adventurers has to survive the harsh wild. It isn’t a typical things go wrong and they have to make it through. Even though they deliberately set out beyond the Wall to attempt to survive a three week adventure, the things that go wrong are all provoked and planned by humans. The group is taken hostage by a group of people who have been waiting for a group like this to fall into their hands for a long time.
The political undertones written in the plot are very smart, and add a touch of realism. It is easy to imagine a group of people operating like this, both in zone and out. And as each hostage faces shifting alliances and new information, they have to decide which truth they believe, if any.
“There’s this assumption that most people, if you strip society and its laws away, are capable of evil.”
If I had a complaint, it would be in June, leader of Ruby City. I wish I had gotten to see a little more of her and what she was capable of. We saw glimpses, but never the in depth reveal that would have made her character more satisfying. She was a complicated character, impossible to tell if she was a victim of circumstance caught up in a game she lost control of, or a very tightly controlled manipulator who knew exactly what she was doing. I have my opinions, but they are built on shaky ground, and I would have really loved to have been given more in either direction.
In all, there is so much to like about The Salt Line. In all directions, there is danger lurking. You get the sense that there is more to the story in any direction you look. And, for a dystopian, thats exactly how you should feel. Uneasy. A society that has changed for logical reasons into something illogical. And we get that here.
Beyond Marta and Evie, we get June and Violet, all strong female characters that are so varied in not only age, gender and race, but in personality and motives as well. We are given things to like and things to dislike in each of them, but they are true to themselves throughout it all. And yet, it isn’t a book that forgets the men. We get to know Wes, and Andy, their guide and betrayer. They are just as flawed and varied and diverse as the women. In all, each character, no matter how large or small their role, is balanced and real.
I don’t know if there is a sequel to this book. The ending was satisfying as a stand alone, but could lead to future books. I would really enjoy more from these characters and this society. In fact, I will be reading previous books from this author, I enjoyed her writing so much.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves dystopian fiction. There is intensity and mystery and suspense, and refreshingly, no romance or other silly distractions to take away from the heart of the plot. Very enjoyable.
The Salt Line goes on sale TOMORROW!!! Don’t miss it!
Thank you to Penguin Random House and Putnam Books for approving me through the First To Read program in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.