by Nancy Farmer
In a future where a wide swath between Mexico and the US is a recognized fiefdom known as Opium ruled by opium warlords and cultivated by lobotomized “eedjit” zombies, a young boy named Matt lives on the compound of a feared drug lord named El Patron. Early on, he learns that he is a clone of the ancient, decrepit kingpin himself. Aside from a friendly bodyguard and the woman who raised him, he’s treated with scorn and disgust by most of the family and employees, although El Patron orders everyone to act normally around him. Gradually, Matt realized why El Patron needs a clone, and it’s not because he wants an heir. Making his escape, he spends some time in a pseudo-socialist Mexican orphanage workhouse before finding his childhood friend, and some measure of meaning in his life.
This is an interesting and original book; Matt’s slow realization as he learns what the reader already assumed gives it a chilling suspense, and the pacing is good. I thought the quality fell a bit in the Mexico section; Farmer seems to have been intent on critiquing the hypocrisy of an Orwellian socialism, which is not only attacking a strawman, but is rather out of place compared to the overall tone of the book. Worse, the main resolution of the book happens off-scene, and Matt is simply told of the fate of everyone he knew at the hacienda in Drugland. It’s a bit of dramatic let-down, though it sets things up nicely for a sequel.