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A Reader of Fictions: Review: Rootless

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Monday, February 11, 2013

Review: Rootless

Rootless, Book 1

Author: Chris Howard
Pages: 336
Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
Source: Purchased

Description from Goodreads:
17-year-old Banyan is a tree builder. Using scrap metal and salvaged junk, he creates forests for rich patrons who seek a reprieve from the desolate landscape. Although Banyan's never seen a real tree—they were destroyed more than a century ago—his father used to tell him stories about the Old World. But that was before his father was taken . . .

Everything changes when Banyan meets a woman with a strange tattoo—a clue to the whereabouts of the last living trees on earth, and he sets off across a wasteland from which few return. Those who make it past the pirates and poachers can't escape the locusts—the locusts that now feed on human flesh.

But Banyan isn't the only one looking for the trees, and he's running out of time. Unsure of whom to trust, he's forced to make an uneasy alliance with Alpha, an alluring, dangerous pirate with an agenda of her own. As they race towards a promised land that might only be a myth, Banyan makes shocking discoveries about his family, his past, and how far people will go to bring back the trees.

In this dazzling debut, Howard presents a disturbing world with uncanny similarities to our own. Like the forests Banyan seeks to rebuild, this visionary novel is both beautiful and haunting—full of images that will take permanent root in your mind . . . and forever change the way you think about nature.

First Sentence: "They figured me too young for a tree builder."

As happens from time to time, I've read a book that is wonderful, but that does not work perfectly for the kind of reader that I am. Rootless by Chris Howard is a true dystopian/post-apocalyptic novel set in a nightmare landscape. The writing is beautiful and the characters are unique. I definitely like Rootless and I'm very impressed by Howard's debut, but I'm too easily confused by science for it to be the perfect book for me.

First off, I want to praise Chris Howard's writing to the skies. The writing is beautiful, perfectly matched to Banyan and to the world itself. Howard manages to establish that Banyan speaks in dialect with the use of words like "reckon," but keeps it to a minimum. Thus, he clearly gets across the sound of the characters without making Rootless any less readable. Dialect done wrong is a miserable reading experience, and I think Howard takes a marvelous approach.

Howard builds from a pretty standard dystopian formula with the evil corporation GenTech, but the world itself is like nothing I've ever read before. The world has gone to seed in just about every way possible. Trees and animal life (except for humans and locusts) have died out. The only remaining food source is a genetically modified corn that the locusts cannot eat, which means the locusts have to settle for the only remaining dietary option: people. Man-eating bugs are pretty much my worst nightmare. There are also pirates, and a whole lot of other unscrupulous, cutthroat folks. In Rootless, characters really do suffer, and it's not all about the romance; people die in nasty ways, just as they should in a good post-apocalyptic.

Banyan works as a tree builder. What's a tree builder?, you might ask. Well, since the trees are gone, the landscape's a tad empty. Rich folks will pay to have trees built on their landscape. Banyan, as his father taught him, crafts trees out of metal. This is a very strange concept, but one that puts such a stark mental image of this world into my head. His cast of characters is just as memorably strange as the trees built out of metal.

As I mentioned previously, the world in Rootless is one in which countless things have gone wrong. Genetic modification of foodstuffs lead to stronger locusts, which lead to no trees. A lack of trees presents its own problems. The moon also came closer to the earth, which messed with the ocean. All of the non-human animals are gone. Everything that's left is controlled by a corporation, the only institution capable of making food without cannibalism. All of this was just way too much for me to process, and I spent a lot of time confused, trying to figure out why something happened and what repercussions it would have on society.

From interviews I've seen, I'm sure Howard has done his research and put tons of thought into everything, but he lost me. Actually, I had a similar problem with The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, which is beloved of many people who understand science much better than I do. To tell you the hard truth, I was at best a mid-B range student in high school science. I know just enough to get things really wrong and muddled. Readers with more science background or less inclined to puzzle over things endlessly will likely not have this issue. Also, since Rootless is told from a first person perspective, the world building will likely become more clear as Banyan learns more.

Oh, one last thing, Howard is a HUGE Star Wars fan. It's all over his inspiration board on Pinterest, for example. His love of Star Wars really shines through. There are some very cleverly done references, which I, having been raised from a young age to be obsessed with the original trilogy (the only one that exists in my brain), loved. Watch out for those, Star Wars fans!

I highly recommend Rootless to readers who enjoy harder science fiction with a focus on world building and storytelling. Fans of Paolo Bacigalupi and Star Wars should especially take note.

Rating: 3.5/5

Favorite Quote:
"'Zion. Trees. You're talking about heaven, boy. We be heading to hell.'
     'I don't know,' I said. 'Could be one's really just the same as the other.'"

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Blogger Unknown said...

I'm glad to read your review of this Christina. Another blogger friend, Asheley, really loved this book and recommended it to me, mostly because we shared a love of 'Ship Breaker' and 'Railsea', and this book sounds a bit like both. Plus I am an unabashedly fond of PIRATES:)And you mention of Star wars love by the author makes this book even more intriguing to me:)

I was turned down by NG with this one and kind of just forgot about it until now. So thanks for putting it back on my radar. I think I'm going to pick this one up when I am in the mood for some Bacigalupi/Mieville type action and adventure:)

February 11, 2013 at 12:47 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Oh man, Heather! If you love those things you need to read Rootless ASAP, because I think you will love it! I struggled with the Bacigalupi book I read, but if he's your speed, then, seriously, this book should be close to perfection for you. :)

Glad to have put it back on your radar!

February 11, 2013 at 1:05 PM  
Blogger brandileigh2003 said...

The science would pribably confuse me a lot too.
Happy reading,
Brandi @ Blkosiner’s Book Blog

February 11, 2013 at 3:00 PM  
Blogger Maji Bookshelf said...

that sounds like a great post apocalyptic novel.. I have no problem with science since I have studied science in high school and graduated with a scientific degree for university, but I personally wouldn't want to be overwhelmed with science in a book. I haven't read a single review of Rootless. However if I ever stumble upon a copy I will keep your review in mind since I am a huge dystopian fan.

great review!
- Juhina @ Maji Bookshelf

February 11, 2013 at 3:35 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Well, then, you might want to check Rootless out. It's hard for me to say how much sense the science makes because I'm terrible at it. I don't know that it's necessarily overwhelming, more like I can't resist trying to make myself understand it.

February 11, 2013 at 3:40 PM  
Blogger kara-karina@Nocturnal Book Reviews said...

I have a feeling I'd like it, Christina! :) I love messed up, stark, detailed plots like that, lack of which is usually my main complaint in dystopias, so I think I need to read both Rootless and The Windup Girl asap. This is an absolutely fantastic review despite the rating because it outlines all the bits I love in a book like this!

February 11, 2013 at 6:41 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Oooh, yes, I can totally see that. You're a much more voracious fantasy reader than I am. I think this would totally fit you, since it's edgy and detailed. :) Hope you love it! I did like it, just not quite as much as other people might....like you!

February 12, 2013 at 11:10 AM  
Blogger Kara_Malinczak said...

Really great points about the dialect, Christina. I agree. It was not overdone and I think the author did a fantastic job with Banyan's voice. Many other dialect books I have read could take a lesson from this author.

I agree with you about most of your review. I loved the writing and the originality blew my mind. I wish it had been perfect for me, but despite its flaws, I still really enjoyed this one.

And I am wearing my Rootles t-shirt right now! :D

February 13, 2013 at 6:44 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Agreed. Dialect is so hard to get right and authors seem to think they need to go all out, when a couple of choice words and some sentence structure can get the point across so well. The bonus of this method is that it doesn't slow the reader down.

Which part did you disagree with? Lol. The lack of complaint about making out surrounded by locusts?


February 15, 2013 at 1:40 PM  

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