THE SALT TRILOGY
Recently I read a new novel by Maurice Gee which really impressed me. Salt is the first book in the Salt trilogy and won the Young Adult fiction section of the 2008 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.
What I really liked about this book was it was very different but at the same time, very familar. I am an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy so am always excited to find something which is truly new. It doesn’t often happen. As an author I also marvelled that the concept was sitting under all our noses – but just because it is obvious doesn’t mean we can see it. And of course, it takes a lot of talent to tell it the way Gee does.
The world of Salt is based on an economic model. The ruined civilisation of Belong has a rigid class structure based on Companies and Barrows, the city is called CeeBeeDee, the mines of Deep Salt are the worst job imaginable and then there is the salt itself. A deadly substance that makes the skin blister, has an x-ray effect and is an inevitable death sentence for the miners? Sound terrifyingly familar? Yes it is – and so is the purpose the villian has in mind.
Yet at the same time the story is fresh and new. This conundrum had me enthralled right to the end. And then something even better happened. Everything familar in terms of reading the first book in a trilogy was ripped out from under me. Even the main characters. So here I am hanging out for book 2 (Called Gool by the way. Great title!) without many clues as to what it’s about or who will be in it.
Here’s my review:
Salt, by Maurice Gee Text Publishing Young Adult Fantasy Paperback rrp $19.95
Salt is the first book in the Salt trilogy by New Zealand author, Maurice Gee. It’s something completely different. Many fantasies follow a familiar pattern but not this one.
In a wonderful satiric twist, it’s loosely based on an economic model. The hero, Hari, lives in the Barrows, a savage slum area outside the city of Ceebeedee. In the city live the ruling Families. Everyone serves The Company. And the people of the Barrows are rounded up as slaves do the worst jobs of all.
When Hari’s father is captured, his insolence earns him an assignment to Deep Salt. The mine no man ever returns from.
The heroine is Pearl (Radiant Pearl of the Deep Blue Sea), a daughter of the Bowles Family, who runs away from an arranged marriage to the cruel Ottmar, owner of Deep Salt. Accompanied by her maid, Tealeaf, she escapes the city into the country.
Both outcast, both chased by the families, Hari and Pearl are destined to cross paths. With Tealeaf’s help, they learn to first tolerate, then respect each other. Tealeaf is more than a maid, she is a Dweller, sent to seek out others who share her races’ mind abilities. Like Hari and Pearl.
Hari is determined to first rescue his father. Everything else must wait. And so it should. There is a great threat in the mine. Deep Salt will become terrifyingly familiar to the reader – it is the glowing light that makes hair fall out and skin fade. Here in our world we have a different name for it and it carries the same terrible risk in ambitious hands.
I was completely surprised by the ending. Suddenly the hero and heroine were older, married and had moved away from the Dweller village. I felt lost. After all, this is a trilogy and I expected to be following Hari and Pearl for another book. At least. Then I realized what a master stroke Gee had wielded. I have no idea what will happen next. All I know is I want to read Gool (Book 2) as soon as possible. No wonder Salt won the NZ Post Book Award for Best Young Adult Fiction.