Saturday, November 23, 2013

Mi vida

After taking a break with Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby, I delved back into the dystopic future of Matt Alacrán in Nancy Farmer's ten-years'-later sequel to The House of Scorpion, The Lord of Opium. The sequel came ten years later, The Lord of Opium begins the day after the final events of its predecessor. So, don't read any further here if you don't want the end of Scorpion spoiled.

In Matt's world, when a person with a clone dies, the clone becomes the person -- so Matt is now El Patrón, ruler of the country of Opium, part of the Drug Confederacy that stretches along what used to be the border of the United States and Mexico. At the former El Patrón's funeral, he'd left instructions that his mourners should drink a glass of the finest wine around his tomb; none knew that the wine was laced with poison and every mourner died, buried now with El Patrón -- Matt's beloved mentor Tam Lin with them. Tam Lin knew about the wine, but chose to die with the others. Matt is devastated, but soon learns why.

As El Patrón, Matt is determined to wean Opium from its source of profits -- poppies -- and free the eejits, the people with chips implanted in their brains that turns them into mindless slaves. He meets the leader of the Farm Patrol -- soldiers who captured anyone who strayed into Opium, turned them into eejits and then supervised their labors -- Cienfuegos, who becomes a valuable ally in Matt's efforts. Cienfuegos introduces Matt to parts of Opium he knew nothing about -- a biosphere, a space station, the cloning facility. Cienfuegos also alerts Matt to the forces -- good and bad -- waiting at the borders (and unable to get in because Opium is locked down) hopeful of taking over the opium trade or eradicating it altogether. It takes Matt a while to trust Cienfuegos, but soon they are working together to try and save Opium, and perhaps the world.

I found this a bit of a yawn. The bulk of the novel is Matt's exploration of his new domain and his amazement, disgust, determination began to wear. Yes, Matt is seeking his destiny and searching for a family -- which is an excellent story to tell -- but I longed for the tension that made the first book so compelling along a little more action. The final chapters are fairly exciting, but they are a long time coming.

Farmer brings in a raft of new characters: Cien- fuegos; a young child clone of a rival drug lord's lover named Listen (and she does); The Bug, another -- barely human -- clone of El Patrón; Mirasol, an eejit who may have a spark left inside her; and the Mushroom Master, an eccentric scientist brought out from the biosphere. It's these three-dimensional characters that make the leisurely pace of the novel tolerable, and certainly provide the investment in wanting Matt (and the family that he creates) to succeed.

Raúl Esparza returns as narrator and -- in this installment -- his characterizations are outstanding. These interesting people -- along with those noted above, Farmer brings back Matt's close (girl)friend María, the maternal Celia, the boys he met (and saved) at the plankton factory, even El Patrón shows up in Matt's head occasionally -- are all voiced authentically, consistently and without odd exaggerations by Esparza. The Spanish words and names are pronounced as if a Spanish speaker were saying them, and he even gets to provide a few other accents -- a couple of Africans have a few lines of dialogue, the Mushroom Man is British and even though Daft Donald (the only survivor of El Patrón's massacre) can't speak, he types in a Scottish accent.

Sadly, for some reason, Esparza chooses not to sing snatches of a spiritual (one that I've sung in my past): Children, Go Where I Send Thee. Since he sang in the first novel, I was particularly disappointed at this omission. At the same time, there is a brief but evocative (Spanish guitar chords) musical interlude that introduces the book.

The audiobook concludes with an interview between Farmer and Esparza. She's a little starstruck here, introducing him as a Tony-Award-nominated actor, but eventually they have a pleasant conversation. Esparza relates his background in audiobooks (his first was The House of the Scorpion), they chat about their favorite characters and what part he'd like to play in the (possible) movie (Tam Lin). Except for the crappy sound quality, it's engaging.

Esparza mentions an afterword to The Lord of Opium that isn't reproduced in the audiobook. This happens all too frequently and I just want to know why.

I received a copy of The Lord of Opium through the Solid Gold Reviewer program of the Audiobook Jukebox. Thanks to Simon & Schuster Audio for this gift.

[The image of Patrón de San Pedro was taken by an unknown photographer and was retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.]

The Lord of Opium by Nancy Farmer
Narrated by Raúl Esparza
Simon & Schuster Audio, 2013.  11:31

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