Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe”

The newest offering by Matched author Ally Condie, The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe is not unlike crowd favorite Firefly in its futuristic-meets-Old West atmosphere. But where Firefly is about traversing the skies, The Last Voyage is all about navigating waterways.

Set on what appears to be a near-future Earth where the human population has fragmented and thinned, The Last Voyage follows Poe Blythe, the 17-year-old captain of the Gilded Lily. A gold-mining dredge, the Lily is designed to scoop up riverine gold for the Admiral, who leads the remote Outpost where Poe’s society resides. But for Poe, who designed the ship’s deadly armor, the dredge is the means to a very different end–revenge against the raiders who destroyed all she loved. But this time, there’s a traitor aboard….

I found a lot to like in Poe’s story. Condie clearly did her research on river-based gold mining and the corresponding destruction. I recently spent a few years living in Suriname, a South American country with a large gold mining sector. My day job at the time included reporting on the impact of mining on Suriname’s rivers and rainforests. The effects are bleak indeed. Condie’s evoking of the heat and noise, grime and devastation of mining is spot-on.

The Last Voyage is also well paced. The novel has a fair number of twist and turns and Condie manages them nimbly–the pace is tight without being rushed. The various story complications unfold gradually, keeping the reader guessing. And flashbacks are skillfully woven throughout, in support of later plot revelations. There’s also disinformation sown by various characters, both intentionally and accidentally. By leaving the reader unsure what to believe, this sprinkling of deception replicates what Poe would experience as she hears rumors and reports, accusations and counter-accusations: deep uncertainty about who to trust.

Poe makes for an intriguing protagonist. As a machinist, captain, and weapon designer, she answers the call for female protagonists filling less stereotypically-female roles. Additionally, as a character whose primary motivation is revenge–and saving her ship–she’s given room to do some rather interesting things without the need to justify via nobler motives.

This brings me to my favorite element of the novel–the interweaving of The Last Voyage‘s action-oriented plot with thoughtfully unfolded themes of loss and grief, weaving the latter into the story without slowing down the former. This requires a deft touch, and Condie pulls it off beautifully. Poe’s character arc across the novel is equally believable and poignant.

On the whole, The Last Voyage is an entertaining example of its kind and I’d note it to those looking for their next YA dystopian/speculative read. The writing is sharp, and occasionally beautiful. The plot is attention-snagging. The futuristic setting is interesting. Various characters are sympathetic, complex. A final thought, however: Though Condie does a tidy job of not burdening her story with unessential details of technology, history, or cultural context–a frequent pitfall in speculative fiction–her efforts to keep her world-building sleek leaves some ambiguity. I found myself craving more info on this future Earth, asking myself Why are…? and What about…? questions. I can make peace with some points on the basis of genre convention–like the idea of a 17-year-old captain–but other curiosity-piquing matters are left unanswered.

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*I received an Advanced Readers Copy of The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe for the purposes of this review.

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