________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 10 . . . . November 6, 2009


Salt. (The Salt Trilogy, Volume I).

Maurice Gee.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2009.
252 pp, hardcover, $18.00.
ISBN 978-1-55469-209-5.

Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Katie Edwards.

** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


The old man, Gantok, the woman, Teelar, listened politely, but the boy, watching Hari, seemed impatient. His name was Danatok. He sat down in a chair at a table almost filling the room and said silently: Hari, sit by me. I want to know about your father.

They took him to Deep Salt, Hari said. I'm going to get him. What sort of man is he?

He's the best hunter in Blood Burrow. The best fighter. He's killed more king rats than anyone else.

King rats? They're big? As big as your dog? Danatok said.Some are bigger. But my father kills them.

For food?The big ones are tough. The young ones are tender. Good meat.

Is that his knife you're wearing? Hari took it from its sheath and laid it on the table but kept his hand on it jealously.

A Dweller knife, said the old man, Gantok, peering at it.


The white-skinned people of Company have travelled over the ocean to Belong where they have enslaved the dark-skinned population and called their new home City. In the Burrows outside City, the native people have been reduced to living in ruined buildings and hunting rats for food. Periodically, enforcers called Whips use their electric gloves to round up the men of the Burrows and put them to work in farms or mines.

     Hari's father, Tarl, is sentenced to work in Deep Salt, a mine from which no one returns. Horrified, Hari vows to find Deep Salt and rescue his father.

     Just as Hari is setting out on his quest, a blonde heiress in City is also preparing to leave her home. Pearl is a daughter of a powerful house, but her maidservant, Tealeaf, has taught her about the evils of Company.

     Tealeaf is one of the Dwellers, a strange three-fingered race, that has the power to communicate telepathically and to influence the minds of others. Tealeaf has seen this power in Pearl as well and helps her escape an arranged marriage.

     When Tealeaf spots Hari communicating with animals outside City, she realizes that he, too, has this power. The three eventually join up and travel together across the wilderness to meet the Dwellers and find Deep Salt.

     Salt deals with themes of racism, colonialism and sexism. These issues create the grounds for an interesting relationship between Hari and Pearl. When they meet, they instantly dislike each other: Hari recognizes Pearl as Company, and Pearl is offended by Hari's coarse language and violent nature.

     Throughout their journey, the pair grow closer together until they return secretly to City and the Burrows, and each must rely on the other to act as a guide in their former homes. They have transformed from oppressor and victim to equals. Hari also observes a change in his thinking about the opposite sex: "He had grown up with women who kept quiet until they were asked. Everything was changing. He found he did not mind."

     The main characters' ages are never defined, but Pearl chafes at being called "child" and is "old enough to be given in marriage." The main characters are likely teenagers, as their relationship is consummated at the end of the book: "They began touching each other, and soon found the way to make love." The characters are somewhat predictable in this respect: the brash, lower-class man and the refined, upper-class woman fall in love despite all their differences. This story may have been more interesting with the typical roles reversed.

     Hari and Pearl's burgeoning powers will appeal to teenagers. Characters with psychic powers are a hot topic these days, as evidenced by Kelley Armstrong's Darkest Powers and Alyson Noel's Immortals series. However, the mind-to-mind communication in Salt is not delineated by italics or quotation marks, an approach which makes the dialogue difficult to follow at times.

     This communication also renders the dialogue strangely emotionless. For instance, when faced with a crowd calling for Pearl's execution, both characters are apparently terrified, but their silent conversation comes off flat:

Stumble, Pearl. Make it look as if you're afraid.

I am afraid, Hari.

So am I. . . .

Make it seem you're crying.

I am crying, Hari.

     Unlike their psychic counterparts in other YA books, Hari and Pearl seem to come into their full power quickly and without much struggle. Although they try and fail to influence each other at their first meeting, their next attempt at mind control is an unqualified success. Hari and Pearl must sneak into City which is in the throes of war. Pearl makes the sentry believe he has seen no one, then begins to silently question him. At one point, the soldier shows a "gleam of consciousness," but Hari quickly subdues him.

     Aside from very small glitches like this one, Hari and Pearl have no trouble causing soldiers to look the other way or to forget their presence entirely. This removes suspense from their covert mission in City. It would have been interesting to see the characters use their combined wits, rather than simply rendering all of the guards useless.

     The ease with which Hari and Pearl complete their tasks stands in contrast with their overall helplessness in the face of war. Their land is trapped in a parade of tyrannical leaders who bring only oppression. Tealeaf hints that there may be hope for humankind (more and more people seem to be developing psychic powers), but the tone of the book remains fairly bleak.

     Salt will not satisfy teens who crave stories with rich world-building: the culture of the Dwellers is barely described. Perhaps this aspect has been reserved for one of the upcoming books in the planned trilogy.

     Readers who enjoy social criticism will have much to ponder here. However, science fiction gains its power by commenting on society in subtle ways that make us rethink our prejudices. The criticism in Salt is a bit too heavy-handed for this.


Katie Edwards is the Cybrarian (Teen Services) for Calgary Public Library.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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