Reviewed by Carrie from Teabelly
Exodus by Julie Bertagna is set less than a 100 years in the future in a world ravaged by global warming and rising sea levels. The ice caps have melted and most of Earth is under water. 15 year old Mara Bell lives on the isolated island of Wing with her family, trying to survive the stormy seasons and advancing tides. Many on the island cling to the idea that they are safe, but Mara can see they need to move before their home disappears altogether. There’s little time for anything except survival, but she has close friends and an annoying little brother to contend with. She also has The Weave, a sort of defunct version of the Internet, which she pokes around in trying to find information on the past, and ways to save her island.
She gets unexpected help from Fox, another traveller on the Weave, who gives her hope that the rest of the world may not be lost. He tells her of giant sky cities where civilisation is thriving and, armed with this knowledge, she convinces her people they must leave Wing in search of this new world.
I did have some problems with this book. At its core it is a well written, well meaning story with some compelling themes and terrifying ‘what-ifs’, but it’s also missing a lot of things that could have moved it from merely competent to great. One of its main strengths is Mara, a wonderful character who carries the burden of saving her people (and another group thanks to a prophecy), and never gives up even when everything seems lost. She’s smart, loyal and brave and you want things to work out for her. Unfortunately the book moves at such a fast pace that those around her do not get the same treatment, character-building wise. We go from the threat of disaster on Wing, the exodus, arriving at the sky city of New Mungo, being a refugee, finding the Treenesters and coming up with a rescue plan, to getting into New Mungo in not very many pages. There’s no real time to relax into it and enjoy what’s happening or get to know the people Mara meets. It all feels very superficial and makes it hard to connect. Therefore moments which should have been affecting just did not touch me at all. There’s no impact, and that’s a shame given what goes on.
I think if it had been a longer book, with more of a slow burn and higher tension it could have been much better. I never really felt that Mara was in real danger, or would not succeed. It all happens quite easily, despite the losses she sustains. A lot more could have been explored – the horrors of their journey to New Mungo and the first days in the boat camp. And it’s not because it’s trying to sugar coat it exactly, there are still deaths and truly horrible things that happen, I just had no emotional connection to them.
I also wasn’t totally sold on the world Mara lives in. I could just about picture Wing, but when she goes into the Weave I was lost. Likewise with the sky cities. These are massive feats of engineering that house thousands of people over vast oceans of water, but I could not imagine them at all given the descriptions here. A little more world building would have gone a long way to making this book more enjoyable.
It may be that this book is just aimed at a younger audience, and they would love it immensely, but I’m not sure if this is the case or not. I feel like the language would suit such an audience, but some of the subject matter it tackles might be a bit much for them, so I’m not sure where it fits. And there may be more to come in the trilogy, picking up the threads of storylines that seemed incomplete or abandoned here, but as a first book it hasn’t really held my interest enough to make me want to continue Mara’s journey. Maybe I will, but I was hoping for more.
Very interesting review, thank you so much Carrie!