This complex tale set in a possible, dystopian, steampunk future Thailand intertwines the tales of multiple people to tell one story of how civil war can erupt in a nation struggling with issues far larger than itself. For this particular nation, those issues are rising oceans due to global warming and food problems and diseases from genetic engineering.
For a story set in such a creative, specific vision of the future, Bacigalupi's evident struggles with world-building fight against the story for the first 1/3 to 1/2 of the book. He fails to fully explain things, so the reader is left attempting to fill in the gaps and envision action in a picture that is not quite complete. I believe this would have been a far better book if he'd spend even just the first few pages more clearly establishing the steampunk future Thailand.
The issues addressed in the book are handled well and creatively, as well as being quite interesting. What exactly is the next step in evolution? Will it occur "naturally," or will it occur due to humans using our own brains to genetically modify humanity? Is it wrong and dangerous to perform genetic modification on any part of nature? What to think of the results? What's the role of humanity on Earth? Additionally, Buddhism and Buddhist thought plays strongly in the book, along with the ideas and concepts of karma and fate. How much of our own life is under our control and how much is just fate?
It also features a truly surprising ending, in spite of knowing for most of the book that civil war will erupt. I always enjoy that in a book, and it made me feel satisfied at the end.
Overall, although Bacigalupi struggles with world building, his intertwined characters and themes are thought-provoking to read. I’m glad I went out of my comfort zone to read this book, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the themes of fate, evolution, nature, karma, or political intrigue.
Check out my extended review