Mal has been walking for a long time. He’s looking for somewhere better, somewhere that isn’t poisoned by the toxic things humanity has done to the Earth. He started his journey with a large group of friends and family but one by one they all died. Now it’s just him. Mal is looking for the mythical “shining city”. If he can find it all his troubles will be gone, because everything is perfect in the shining city. The problem with myths is that they only contain a kernel of truth, the rest is all fantasy. Mal learns this the hard way in The Shining City, the second book in the Our Broken Earth series by Demitria Lunetta.
[Note: While I am reviewing this novel independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by West 44 Books for the purpose of this review. Warning: My review of The Shining City contains some spoilers!]
In search of a “shining city”
Mal set off a long time ago to find the fabled shining city with his family and friends. In a world poisoned by pollution and left to go wild by humanity, this was no easy journey. Along the way, his companions all fell to different dangers until Mal was the only one left. He kept going and one day he finally sees the shining city. It’s real! He tries to run to it but it’s much farther away than he thought. After what seems like forever, Mal is ready to give up when he’s found by some scouts from the shining city.
The scouts take Mal inside the city. They clean him up, give him food, water, medicine, and clothes, and a debt. They promise he’ll always have whatever he needs, no one goes without in the shining city, but everyone pays for what they get. Debt is tallied in credits. Refugees can work various jobs to pay off their debt. When their debt is paid in full, the refugees get to become actual citizens of the shining city.
Eager to earn his keep
Mal is so happy to be in the shining city that he accepts everything he’s told. He begins working around the clock to pay back his debt so he can become a full citizen of the shining city. After a few weeks, his roommates and new friends tell him to slow down. When he doesn’t want to, they tell him to check his credits. Shockingly, Mal’s balance has hardly changed despite all his hard work. Gunner, Pin, and Tank tell Mal that’s how it works here. Because everything they do costs them more credits, making enough to pay off the debt and become a citizen is almost impossible.
Mal is despondent but Gunner has a solution. He knows of a way to make a lot of credits fast. There are special games that the refugees can participate in. The citizens of the shining city like to watch the games and bet on the outcomes. If a refugee wins they can make a ton of credits in a single night. One of the highest-paying games is “fight night”. Mal isn’t a fighter but he starts training, determined to earn as many credits as he can.
What Mal quickly learns is that even with these big payouts it’s almost impossible to get ahead. Worse, the games aren’t as friendly and innocent as the label suggests. Refugees get really hurt. Sometimes they even die. Mal knows this isn’t right but what can he do to change the broken system?
A dystopian world that feels very familiar in The Shining City
The Shining City tells of a world where the have-nots are held down by the haves. The have-nots (the refugees) are kept in place with a system of debt that can never be overcome without the patronage of a full citizen. Worse, the refugees are gaslit into being grateful for what they have instead of asking why they can’t fairly gain more. The promise of citizenship is dangled in front of the refugees to get them to buy into the system but even those that manage to clear their debt get stuck in “pre-citizen” limbo while they wait for “paperwork” to clear. It doesn’t seem like any refugees ever actually obtain full citizenship.
Honestly, the dystopian world Lunetta describes doesn’t sound all that different from our world. Maybe she uses different terms but the poorest class does the difficult grunt work, while the promise of a better life is dangled just out of reach. No matter how hard the lowest classes work, their chances of escaping the crushing debt they live under just for necessities are almost impossible. And even if by some miracle they manage to move up to the middle or upper class, they’ll always be treated differently (does the term “new money” ring any bells?) by those that were there first.
Our Broken Earth series brings a dystopia story with training wheels
The Shining City is intended for children ages 14 to 17. Personally, I think it might be better for a slightly younger crowd, say 9 to 12. There is nothing in the story that is too violent or difficult that would prevent younger children from reading it. Meanwhile, the style is very simplistic and I think older children would get bored with it.
The overall style was an odd form of stream of consciousness. There weren’t a whole lot of details or insights, and the overall impression is that Mal has considerably below-average intelligence. I personally had a hard time getting into the story because of the odd presentation mixed with the lack of insight. But younger readers might look past that and still enjoy the story.
So older readers probably will want to stick to 1984 or The Hunger Games if they want to dive into a dystopian world. But if you want your younger reader to start thinking about how class divisions shape and affect society and the individuals within it, The Shining City is a place to start. Check it out starting on March 16th, 2023.
My Rating: 5/10
The Shining City by Demitria Lunetta is available on March 16, 2023. Are you interested in reading it? Let us know on Twitter or in The Cosmic Circus Discord. And if you haven’t already, check out our review of Ruin and Rising: A Grishaverse novel!
Book Review: Ruin and Rising: A Grishaverse Novel by Leigh Bardugo