The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones
Penguin Publishing Group: 9/5/17
eBook review copy; 400 pages
The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones is a very highly recommended
dystopian with killer ticks, salted and walled area perimeters, drug
farming, and political intrigue.
The novel follows a group of wealthy people who have paid enormous fees
to Outer Limits Excursions for the opportunity to go beyond the salt
line and experience nature. Andy is their tour guide, the man who will
also show them how to survive in the wilderness behind the salt line
during their three week boot camp. Included in the tour group are:
Jesse, a pop star and his girlfriend Edie, a bartender; Wes, the
tech-wizard who developed Pocketz, a web-bank for credit storage and
use; Marta, a woman in her fifties sent on this adventure by her
crime-boss husband; along with several other minor characters.
Lucky citizens in the U.S. are living within the walled salt line zones.
The salt lines are borders around zones where controlled chemical
burnings had taken
place, scorching the earth, or salting as it has been called
historically. Then the Wall was erected for further protection and the
emanating a pulse fifty kilometers eastward, out from the wall. The
chemical and physical barriers are needed to protect people from the
deadly miner ticks.
The male tick isn't the real problem. It is the female miner tick that
can potentially kill you. The female numbs your skin, burrows in, and
will lay eggs that enter your bloodstream. These eggs will mature and
erupt out of your skin. But the even worse problem is Shreve’s disease,
which about half of the female miner ticks carry. That disease is deadly
and fast. In order to travel behind the salt line you need to have and
carry a stamp with you at all times. Once you feel the unmistakable
tell-tale itch of the female miner tick on you, you have to prepare for
the worst pain in your life and immediately use the stamp.
"The Stamp thrusts a barbed hook through your
skin, skewering the female miner tick, and then retracts it, capturing
the tick in a chemical solution. Then a burner brands the wound,
cauterizing it and killing any of the eggs in the perimeter, as well as
disinfecting the blood-borne contagions the bitch might have left
behind. The Stamp has a ninety-nine-point-eight percent
success rate if used within sixty seconds of initial burrowing."
The Salt Line begins with the group in boot camp with Andy and
gives us the backstory and history for several of the characters. This
continues as the group, rather than going on an adventure, become
hostages of Ruby City, a community of outer-zone survivors and drug
farmers who have their own political agenda to advance.
The quality of the writing is incredible. This is sophisticated protean
world building at its best - and exactly
what people want when they ask for better world building and a more
sophisticated plot. The main characters are all extremely well-developed
and complicated. Their thoughts and interactions are very realistic. I
will concede that reviews which say the novel you have at the beginning
isn't the novel you have at the end are partially right, but in this
case I appreciated the shake-up and felt it created a stronger, more
realistic plot. Sure, killer ticks are a draw, but add in the other
elements and this becomes a multifaceted novel with depth and intrigue
rather than a one-dimensional thriller. (Not that I wouldn't have kept
reading if The Salt Line was a thriller only about the killer ticks, which had me feeling itchy during the entire novel.)
My review copy was courtesy of the Penguin Publishing Group.