by Alexandra Duncan
Expected Publication Date: April 1, 2014
Length: 520 pages
Obtained Via: I was provided an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review by the publisher
Format Read In: Advanced Reader’s Copy
View at the Traffic light:
Ava, a teenage girl living aboard the male-dominated deep space merchant ship Parastrata, faces betrayal, banishment, and death. Taking her fate into her own hands, she flees to the Gyre, a floating continent of garbage and scrap in the Pacific Ocean, in this thrilling, surprising, and thought-provoking debut novel that will appeal to fans of Across the Universe, by Beth Revis, and The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood.
I gave Salvage a yellow stoplight not because I didn’t enjoy it or because it wasn’t good, but because it could have been much better, and that’s a theme that will crop up in this review will quite often. Salvage just had such an excellent premise and had the opportunity to really be, as some have started calling it, “Feminist sci-fi”. Did it live up to the label? In some ways. Ava’s character has so much growth as she learns that her society’s views of women might be a bit. . . eccentric to the rest of the world. The science fiction part? Well, technically it’s definitely science fiction(they live on a spaceship, all sorts of things, etc.) but I could have totally used more.
I LOVED the opening portion of Salvage. Getting to see inside Ava’s world was fascinating. I thought the way the spaceship society worked was intriguing, though also quite saddening(with all their ideas that women shouldn’t sing, learn math, or learn how to read). And I thought the way Duncan did this was also really well done–there was a lot of world-building without info-dumping, which meant that some things were a bit confusing at first, but I caught on quickly. The story progresses a bit slowly as we learn some of Ava’s back story and the fact she is soon to be a bride to a man on another crew.
The polygamy approach was fascinating(I feel like I keep using this word, but it’s truly the best word I have for this). Ava, as the Captain’s daughter, thinks she’ll be a first bride, and she’s pretty sure she knows who she’s expected to betrothed too–Luck, a childhood friend and a boy she’s pretty sure she’s in love with. But after Ava and Luck get together before the wedding, well, the society won’t stand for that. Ava’s basically sentenced to death(not in so many terms), and escapes to Earth, which is where the story really begins, and unfortunately, where the world-building and writing decrease in quality.
Don’t get me wrong, I wanted Ava to go to earth, find her own way, and realize she’s not worthless. I just felt like this is the part of Salvage where a lot of potential is lost. Ava soon falls in with a kind spaceship Captain and her daughter on the Gyre, a continent in the Pacific ocean from scraps and garbage(I’m still confused as to how that worked). Of course, nothing good last forever so something happens to the Gyre and Ava is forced to set off for Mumbai to find her mother’s half-sister, the only relative Ava has on earth.
This is also where the science fiction part almost. . . stopped. Not completely, but Ava’s on a spaceship, then an island of floating scraps in the middle of the Pacific, and then Mumbai. . . which doesn’t seem all that changed from the present-day Earth except there’s docking sports for spaceships and more technology in the way of tablets and ID chips. But other than that, everything seems suspiciously normal to me. Surely, if some time in the future there were enough advances in science where people could completely live on spaceships, floating piles of trash melded together to create an island, there would be OTHER changes to our physical world.
Salvage is a mostly character driven book, but I still wanted the setting and the world-building to be well-done. And why Mumbai was a wonderful choice(not the most common setting!), there could have just been so much more done there. Luckily, I did like Ava, which is going to be a huge deciding factor in your enjoyment of this book, because it’s *highly* character-driven. There are complete chapters dedicated to pretty much nothing else but Ava’s growth and thoughts. Now personally, I liked Ava–a lot. She doesn’t start out as someone who wants to go against her society just for the sake of it, but knows she can’t quite fit the mold. For one thing, she likes fixing the ship–basically maintenance–which is a job only the men are allowed to do on her crew. And she likes Luck, so they act on that together.
Ava isn’t purposefully defiant, but she just doesn’t fit in the mold everyone around her wants her to. Once she goes to Earth, she has trouble fitting in there as well(as can be expected), but manages to adapt, though she has trouble believing her worth since her crew basically disowned her and tried to kill her. And man, guys, does Ava have it tough some times even AFTER that. Sometimes I just wanted to reach through the book and give her a hug because if anyone deserves it, Ava does. But I love watching Ava come to realize that things she thought about herself just aren’t true, and even though her crew cast her out doesn’t mean she’s worthless. Even the side characters were really well done, and I think Duncan’s strength definitely lies with characterization rather than plotting or world-building.
I liked Salvage, but I thought there was a lot of lost potential. While Duncan excels at characterization (Go Ava!), the pacing was incredibly slow at times and I thought the world-building on Earth was lacking. While I get that this was always probably going to be a more character-driven story just because that’s what this particular book is, I would have loved to see more science fiction elements, even in just the world-building. It’s really more of a 3.5 stars, but probably closer to 3 stars than 4 stars, so 3/5 cupcakes.