Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Salt Line

The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones
Penguin Publishing Group: 9/5/17
eBook review copy; 400 pages
ISBN-13: 9780735214316

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 TerraVibra added, 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.)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the Penguin Publishing Group.

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