Review: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

28 November, 2012 Reviews 3 comments

Review: Ship Breaker by Paolo BacigalupiShip Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
Series: Ship Breaker #1
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on May 1st 2010
Pages: 326
Genres: Dystopian, Young Adult
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Amazon Good BooksBook Depository

In America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota--and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it's worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life...

In this powerful novel, award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers a thrilling, fast-paced adventure set in a vivid and raw, uncertain future.

Generally, when I’m reading a dystopia, it will seem like the author is underestimating my ability to remember details when they introduce me to the character’s world. Repetitive explanations and intense descriptions that go on for far too long often give the distinct feeling of an elementary school teacher writing a phrase on the whiteboard repeatedly, and then underlining it several times, finally asking: “You got that?”

The world in Ship Breaker, however, was both constructed and introduced very well. It was immediately clear that Bacigalupi knew what he was talking about. Every element of the gritty, futuristic world was detailed and incredibly realistic.

While the author never info-dumped or overdid the setting, I felt like when it came to the logic and decisions that Nailer made, Bacigalupi was convinced that they were a concept out of the reader’s grasp.

The plot of Ship Breaker centers around Nailer’s decision to forgo pillaging a wrecked ship in order to save it’s sole survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl named Nita. After this happens, Nailer doesn’t understand why he didn’t take her life, and with it, her ship’s treasure. It would have helped him and his best friend Pima survive. It would have created far less trouble for him in the future. He doesn’t know if he can trust Nita, and he wonders repeatedly if he has made a mistake. These are good reasons for him to be confused, for him to spend some time reflecting on, but I began to wonder if the author thought this concept was beyond my grasp as the thing was paraphrased for paragraph upon paragraph, page upon page. Just when I thought we were going to get beyond it and progress to, um, a part where something actually happened, Nailers mind would wander back.

This isn’t to say that the book lacked action. There were plenty of climactic scenes in which several characters placed their lives at stake or gambled all they were worth. These scenes were fun to read, and generally carried a clarity that didn’t interrupt the pacing of the novel.

I couldn’t really decide on how I felt about the writing. The first couple of chapters dazzled me with their clean yet effective descriptions, but throughout the latter half of the book the writing style I loved was dropped as if it no longer had purpose amidst the action.

I enjoyed the characters, especially Tool (Though I had a hard time taking his name seriously). The little hints about his backstory really interested me, so much so that I would probably be up for reading the sequel. Nita and Nailer’s relationship was really lovely, and I adored Pima and her mother and the entire Dauntless crew.

Ship Breaker scores high on a checklist of things a good book should have, but there was a key element that was missing, which was the fact that it failed to keep my interest. There were several moments during Nailer’s journey where the narration felt like it was going through the motions of a story out of priority, rather than developing naturally.

This book was enjoyable, but I just wasn’t invested, and it’s for that reason and the fact that a lot of Nailer’s intent was repeated and paraphrased so many times I thought my head would explode, that I’m giving it 3.5 stars.

Adrienne Fray

Adrienne Fray

Reviewer at Cuddlebuggery
Born and raised in the middle of a desolate expanse of prairie land, Adrienne has learnt quickly that there are only two options for a happy survival: read constantly, or become very, very bored. Find her on GoodReads.

3 Responses to “Review: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi”

  1. Fangs4Fantasy

    “finally asking: “You got that?””
    Ugh this – and with endless tell not show (Authors!  No reader has ever asked you to stop the story  because they want a 15 page summary on the entire irrelevant history of this world, right now! And there may be questions later)
    Sadly, while it sounds like an interesting concept, this book seems to have a lot of the Dreadful Dystopian Monologue (everyone around them is dead, they just saw their loved one die, and they’re now sobbing in a corner. Oh they’re sad? Thank you I never would have guessed. please spend 3 pages telling me how sad they are. Wait, I haven’t got it yet, let’s return later in the chapter for another 4 pages on how sad their sadness is. No, not enough, please describe their sadness again just to make sure I truly understand how very sad their sad is)

  2. cynicalsapphire

    Hmmm, very interesting to see how you felt about this one. I read The Windup Girl earlier this year, and I’ve seen it lavished with praise, but I was just dying of boredom the whole time. While he did do a lovely job with the world building, the characters were not compelling in the slightest. This one sounds a bit more engaging, but I’m not all that excited at this point. I’m sure I’ll still read it eventually, but Bacigalupi may just not be for me, despite all of the love from critics and a number of hardcore sci fi/fantasy fans.

  3. The Hipster Owl's Bookshelf

    “Just when I thought we were going to get beyond it and progress to, um, a part where something actually happened, Nailers mind would wander back.”  Huh….that’s pretty much about the same way I felt with The Diviners for some reason. That book was waaaaay TOO LONG. Anyway.  Moving on.
    Thanks for the great review!!

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