Book review

Exodus by Julie Bertagna (2002)

What makes a leader of people? Courage? Conviction? Resourcefulness? Foolhardiness? All of those things, but perhaps above all a leader has a vision of the future. A dream.

Mara isn't a leader of people when this story starts. She's just a young girl eking out her existence with her family and a few other villagers on a tiny, remote, sinking island. In Mara's world global warming has taken its toll. The ice caps have melted, sea levels have risen and the world has sunk beneath the waters. Storms and tidal surges batter the few remaining, scattered settlements. For all Mara and the people of the tiny island of Wing know, they may be the last souls left alive on planet earth. There is nothing out there beyond their encroaching shores except a vast and angry ocean.

So when they finally have to abandon Wing, it is a desperate and fearful group of people who take to their tiny fishing boats. And they are almost entirely without hope, except for something that Mara has told them. She has accessed the old technology, found her way into the Weave:

Above the scrolling text, the on-screen simulation shows a cluster of towers, colossal trunks of towers, rising out of the flooded ruins of an old city. Now a vast, geometric construction - tiers and branching networks - begins to grow out of the central trunk, cresting higher and higher into the sky, mapping the air space between the towers with amazingly complex patterns, while massive roots bore down through the seabed, deep into the Earth.
Mara's parents gaze in astonishment at the vast structure that rises out of the ocean - a giant city in the sky.
'Impossible,' says Coll. 'It would blow down. How could it withstand a storm?'

It is a nightmare voyage, and not everyone makes it to the New World City of New Mungo. Sickness and the violence of the ocean take their toll. But the real desperation only sets in when Mara and her people realize that there is a mighty wall round New Mungo, and hordes of refugee boat people scrabble a living in the toxic waters just outside.

Mara wonders why she ever persuaded the people of Wing to seek out the God forsaken city of New Mungo. And it is that admixture of guilt and sheer determination to find something better that drives her on, and makes her a leader of people.

It is a monumental task. Mara loses people very dear to her, and makes other friends along the way. Her character is forged by the vicissitudes of her life. She is rocked to the core by her dawning comprehension of man's inhumanity to man. The only thing she has is hope. And a dream.

Read it. I think you will be absolutely enthralled. I know I was.

What can I read next?

If you would like to look at some more books set in a desperate future, you might like to look at this one by Robert Westall:

Or this one by Lois Lowry:

Or this appalling story by Rachel Anderson:

If you really enjoyed the character Mara, you might like to meet Lyra Belacqua in the brilliant His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman:

Or Sabriel the Abhorsen in the wonderful book by Garth Nix:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

Exodus features in these lists: