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A Reader of Fictions: Review: The Lord of Opium

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Monday, September 2, 2013

Review: The Lord of Opium

The Lord of Opium
Matteo Alacrán, Book 2

Author: Nancy Farmer
Pages: 432
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 3, 2013
Read: August 27-September 1, 2013
Source: ARC from BEA

Description from Goodreads:
The new book continues the story of Matt, the boy who was cloned from evil drug lord El Patrón in The House of the Scorpion. Now 14 years old, Matt rules his own country, the Land of Opium, the only thriving place in a world ravaged by ecological disaster. Though he knows that the cure for ending the suffering is hidden in Opium, Matt faces obstacles and enemies at every turn when he tries to use his power to help.

First Sentence: "Matt woke in darkness to the sound of something moving past him."

This is one of those cases where I think memory did me a disservice. See, The House of the Scorpion is praised as one of the best dystopian novels, and I do agree that might be true, as it does focus on world building (not a claim many YA dystopians can make). However, when I read it, The House of the Scorpion was in the 3-3.5 range for me. Despite that, I was convinced that younger me missed something and that I would enjoy the series more now. Sadly, this didn't turn out to be the case. From what I can recall, I think The Lord of Opium is a good sequel, but it was a bit slow for me.

Before launching into The Lord of Opium, I read a synopsis of The House of the Scorpion, because I remembered very little. Based on that refresher, The Lord of Opium is legit. Sometimes sequels ruin the original, especially when the sequel may not have initially been planned. The House of the Scorpion came to a nice conclusion, but it didn't wrap things up in a neat bow, and Farmer had lots of questions to really dig into with another book. If The House of the Scorpion was your jam, I don't think The Lord of Opium will taint your opinion of the previous book, except maybe the romance arc I'll talk about later.

The parts of the book I enjoyed were the political and psychological angles. Politically, Opium's a mess. El Patrón and his heirs died, leaving a power vacuum in one of the most powerful drug kingdoms. With El Patrón dead, Matt becomes the new Patrón and legally a human being, no longer a clone. Though legally accepted as human and ruler, others are not necessarily eager to show deference to a fifteen-year-old clone.

On top of that, Matt wants to make huge changes to Opium, namely stopping the production of opium and curing the eejits, microchipped workers. The whole economy of the country will have to be restructured to do this, not to mention the scientific work that will need to be done to remove the microchips from the workers. Plus, other countries will not be thrilled to hear that Matt doesn't wish to export opium anymore, most especially Africa, run by the super creepy Glass Eye Dabengwa, who's a lot like El Patrón was. Basically, all of the leaders of the world are super reminiscent of tyrants of the past and just yikes.

Another powerful element was Matt's internal struggle with El Patrón, who's sort of inhabiting his mind. There's really a question of whether some element of Patrón lives inside of him or if this is something he's imagining as he cracks under the pressure of his new position. Matt was very unlike El Patrón in the first book, but shades of the person he could become begin to appear now. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, as they say, and Farmer really delves into the way dark impulses can sneak through when you have complete control.

Though I liked all of those things, the book just went on forever, and I slogged through it. Farmer's more about the world building and plot, and the only truly well-developed characters are Matt and Cienfuegos. Without more powerful characters, I wasn't invested enough for all of those pages to not be a chore. Sometimes the length is necessary, but I feel like there was room for quite a bit of trimming. I'm also left with myriad questions about the world building, but the biggest issue for me personally was a lack of caring.

The straw that pushed The Lord of Opium from being a book about which I felt relatively ambivalent to one I didn't particularly care for was the romance, especially that very last page. Generally, I do not care for the portrayal of women, with most of them being entirely undeveloped and shunted into homemaker-y roles and the one powerful woman, María's mother, is depicted as entirely unfeeling. Like any woman in politics, Esperanza is judged more for her horrible parenting than her political stances, which, so far as I can tell, mostly involve trying to help the environment recover from what humans have done to it.

Warning: SPOILERS in this paragraph:
Oh, right, I was talking about the romance. Anyway, Matt has this thing with María, also fifteen. They're a little couple, but her mom doesn't approve and is keeping her apart. Meanwhile, he becomes obsessed with his waitress, an eejit he dubs Mirasol, even though she only responds to Waitress. María finds out about this and is jealous. He tells her not to worry, but continues spending a lot of time with Mirasol, trying to save her and the other eejits. He figures out he can wake her up a bit, bring out her personality from within in the mindless zombie persona, if he plays a certain song. She will dance and then pass out. While she's passed out, he kisses her. This is wrong and creepy on so many levels, since she can't consent because she's unconscious AND because she's brainwashed. Also, he's supposedly in a loving, committed relationship with María. But, hey, conveniently Mirasol dies, closing off that love triangle, and leaving Matt free to marry María at fifteen, because, hey, he's the Patrón and he can do whatever the fuck he wants. Romance, ladies and gentlemen!

Though I don't think The Lord of Opium is entirely without merit, it really is not a book for me. I suspect those who really loved The House of the Scorpion will enjoy this, but I make no promises since I do not remember that book well.

Rating: 1/5

Favorite Quote:
"'Do children ever leave the Brat Enclosure?' asked Matt.
     'Not if I can help it.' The woman laughed. The others seemed to enjoy the joke to.
     'We take turns watching them,' the man explained. 'It's tiring to chase after prehumans, and we prefer to keep them corralled.'"

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Blogger Amanda said...

Oh, I'm so disappointed to read your review on The Lord of Opium! I really enjoyed The House of the Scorpion and was looking forward to a sequel, but I did read THOTS back when I was a pre-teen. I kind of want to do a re-read of the first and move on to the second, but I definitely am worried that I won't enjoy THOTS as much if I read it again. It's a dilemma. Though slightly comforting to hear that you think the sequel won't destroy/alter readers' enjoyment of the first one. I'll need to think about this some more, I think. Thanks for the honest review, Christina!

September 4, 2013 at 7:19 PM  

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