City of Screams had been in my stack for a little while and was awaiting a suitable young adult slot. I found it between giant space operas when I wanted a bit of light relief – something short and still sci-fi-ish (a word that is easier to say than type) and not too long. This was perfect. At first I thought I was reading a blend of After Man (Dougal Dixon) and Hothouse (Brian Aldiss) – we have evolution run riot, evolving life into a terribly dangerous world for the descendants of humanity.
The present state of man is the ‘agle’ (a rather nice term to my mind) branching into ‘air-agles’ or angels and ‘ground-agles’ with close sentient relatives in rodent and raptor (more like Moa birds I think) form. The society is barely stable between the city-dwelling agles and the raptors who guard their perimeter. It all goes tits up quickly, and is made much worse when the evangelising army of Humans (or Adults) turns up, preaching the word of Genome and racial purity, denying evolution and being horribly violent and death campy.
It’s a rather heavy-handed allegory of science vs religion but also a pertinent and passionate one. Initially I found it too blatant; perhaps as an atheist myself I find the ardour of the dogmatist so appalling that it made the story and the Genome followers somewhat repellent. I gave it time though, and enjoyed the futuristic view of our evolution in an extreme flux (there are lots of other agle variants, especially once the go on the run). The characters irritated me a little, but I rarely enjoy the self-pity which consumes some of them.
The pay off is pleasing, and I can’t disagree with the importance of the ideas in the story. A good book, and a valuable one for our younger readers. Of course I discovered later that this is a sequel – something entirely unmentioned on the book. That drives me nuts, but I enjoyed the story anyway. Character investment is probably greater if you read The Rule of Claw first.