The Lord of Opium – Nancy Farmer
This new book continues the story of Matt, the boy who was cloned from evil drug lord El Patrón in The House of the Scorpion. Now 14 years old, Matt rules his own country, the Land of Opium, the only thriving place in a world ravaged by ecological disaster. Though he knows that the cure for ending the suffering is hidden in Opium, Matt faces obstacles and enemies at every turn when he tries to use his power to help.
This is a review of book #2 in a duology. It’s spoiler-free, but you might want to check out my review of The House of the Scorpion.
Review: I loved The House of the Scorpion and was really excited to find out that it has a sequel.
The Lord of Opium is about Matt, a 14-year-old clone who has just inherited the largest drug empire in the world. Matt wants to make a few changes to the country he now rules. He wants to stop growing opium and grow food crops instead. He also wants to free the eejits—the mindless slaves who have microchips in their brains and work in the opium fields. Matt has lofty goals, but not everybody is supportive of his leadership. There are a lot of other drug lords who would love to overthrow Matt and take control of Opium.
Like I said, I loved The House of the Scorpion, but I have mixed feelings about this book. I didn’t love it as much as the first one.
I still really like the world, the characters, and the themes in this duology. The characters have Hispanic ancestry, and the country of Opium sits along what used to be the US/Mexico border. It’s a unique dystopian society that I haven’t seen before. I like the culture of the characters, and the books spend a lot of time on worldbuilding, which I appreciate (for the most part. The worldbuilding does make the books a little slow.)
Like the first book, the characters are the best part of this one. Matt is so complex. He wants to be his own person, but he’s a clone, so everybody expects him to be an exact copy of El Patrón. Matt also has to fight against his instincts because he wants to be good, but he’s the clone of an evil man. He doesn’t always make the best decisions.
The themes are interesting. I know that some people might get irritated because the book brings up current hot-button political issues. The book isn’t preachy about the issues, so it didn’t bother me. The story makes the reader wonder when a person starts and stops being a person. What is the definition of a “person”? It’s an interesting question that real-life people are still trying to figure out.
I enjoyed this book overall, but I had some problems with it.
First, it’s painfully slow. The House of the Scorpion is also on the slower side, but the characters and world were compelling enough to keep me reading. The Lord of Opium is just slow. All of the action happens at the end. Matt spends most of the book sulking, flying around Opium in a hovercraft, and telling people to “Shut up.” I understand that a 14-year-old drug lord will be busy and have a lot to mope about, but it doesn’t make for interesting reading. I wanted something to happen.
I also have issues with the romances. It’s hard to talk about this without wandering into spoiler territory, but I’m going to try. In the first book, Matt is romantically interested in his friend, María. In the second book, Matt and María are separated, and Matt develops romantic-ish feelings for an eejit he names Marisol. This relationship is creepy because Marisol has a microchip in her brain and can’t consent to anything that’s happening, but the relationship doesn’t bother me too much because it doesn’t go very far.
What bothers me is that when Matt and María are reunited, their relationship suddenly gets really serious. I didn’t believe it. Matt and María’s love is innocent and childlike in the first book, then Matt has his romantic-ish thing with Marisol, and then Matt and María suddenly want to spend the rest of their lives together. The author says that they’re in love, but I didn’t see the love. The relationship isn’t developed enough for me. This made the book’s ending fall flat, which is disappointing.
I didn’t like the sequel as much as I liked the first book, but I’m glad I read it. I love these characters and needed to know what happened to them.