Review: The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on September 5th 2017
Genres: Dystopian, Science Fiction
In the spirit of Station Eleven and California, award-winning novelist Holly Goddard Jones offers a literary spin on the dystopian genre with this gripping story of survival and humanity about a group of adrenaline junkies who jump -the Salt Line.-
How far will they go for their freedom--once they decide what freedom really means?
In an unspecified future, the United States' borders have receded behind a salt line--a ring of scorched earth that protects its citizens from deadly disease-carrying ticks. Those within the zone live safe, if limited, lives in a society controlled by a common fear. Few have any reason to venture out of zone, except for the adrenaline junkies who pay a fortune to tour what's left of nature. Those among the latest expedition include a popstar and his girlfriend, Edie; the tech giant Wes; and Marta; a seemingly simple housewife.
Once out of zone, the group find themselves at the mercy of deadly ticks--and at the center of a murderous plot. They become captives in Ruby City, a community made up of outer-zone survivors determined to protect their hardscrabble existence. As alliances and friendships shift amongst the hostages, Edie, Wes, and Marta must decide how far they are willing to go to get to the right side of the salt line.
I’ll cut straight to it: The Salt Line is one of my favorites for the year. The entire concept of killer ticks sounds like it could be campy or over the top. That is not at all the case. The ticks are described in such a realistic and terrifying way that it truly becomes plausible. Or at least feels plausible. The author is able to use enough facts grounded in science to create this terrifying epidemic. This book did remind me a bit of Joe Hill’s The Fireman in that way. It depicts a world that has been ravaged by some disease, where people’s ways of life are altered because of them. I suppose there are a number of books that could fit this, but the over all tone and presentation and just the quality of writing put me in mind of Hill. That is a huge compliment from me as Hill is one of my favorite, must read authors.
Honestly, there is not much that I did not love about this book. This is a book that you can read at surface value for the compelling story and intriguing characters, both of which are well developed. But you can also delve a bit deeper and see some scary parallels with our current world as well as our history.
There are city or areas here that are protected by what they call the salt lines. They are contained communities where its residents are safe from the ticks. The walls and patrols that surround them keep them safe. But for those that are not fortunate enough to live in zone, those same protections for some, keep others out.
But, you know there will always be some people that crave adventure, risk takers that are willing to chance leaving the protections that shelter them from the risk of ticks. A tour company caters to that and promises to provide that a breathtaking experience out of zone, where people can enjoy the nature they’ve only seen in pictures, and bonus, they have the ability to do so and protect their tourists from the ticks. But this adventure comes with quite a hefty price tag, so its luxury for the rich.
Edie is the one person on this trip that if not wealthy. She is the girlfriend of a mega pop-star. She is poor, and grieving, not a likely fit for this trip, but she is very relatable and her personality and and just goodness make her very likable. The range of other guests varies. There are scientists, a tech innovator, etc. We do get the POV of a few of these other guests, which I feel helped to flesh out the characters and also give them more background. I felt the characters were well done. Often in a book like this, multiple POVs can actually detract from the main story by not allowing the reader to focus in and “get to know” any of the characters well enough. But in this case, it worked well. Edie still felt like the star of the show for me, but I also came to really understand and enjoy a couple of the other characters as well, something that would not have happened if I had not had their perspectives.
Once out past the walls, things do not go as planned, and the tourists get a more frightening experience of life outside of the walls than they anticipated. How they deal with this and try to survive, as well as what we learn in the process is as exciting as it is frightening.
So, if you are craving a slightly disturbing view of future earth with life threatened by something as small and common place as a tick, with some adventure, thrills and terrors along the way, I highly recommend this one.