A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Lord of Opium is a sequel to Nancy Farmer's National Book Award-winning The House of the Scorpion (2002) and should definitely be read in sequence. It's set in a future where the natural environment has nearly been destroyed and drug kingpins rule great swaths of territory in what was once the American southwest. El Patron, Matt's predecessor, was a particularly clever and cruel dictator, and, even after his death, anyone in his way is in danger. Casual cruelty to the microchipped "eejits" is routine, and clones are used for spare organ parts. Some readers may find these concepts disturbing, but they are central to the plot, and the novel raises many interesting ethical questions. There's little sexual content (some kissing), and the strongest languages is "hell." Violence is usually implied rather than shown directly, but a gunfight leaves one character seriously injured, a few supporting characters are killed, and a boy's hand gets melted in a scanner.
What's the story?
The House of the Scorpion (2002) ended with the evil drug lord El Patron assassinated and his 14-year-old clone, Matt, ready to assume his position as the ruler of the drug territory Opium, located between the United States and what was formerly Mexico. This sequel finds Matt navigating a deadly path between maintaining a lockdown that will prevent Opium from being overrun by its enemies and trying to find a way of curing the thousands of zombie-like "eejits" who harvest the poppies and keep the nation running. As Matt travels Opium and learns its closely guarded secrets, he must make decisions with terrible consequences to survive without selling his soul.
Is it any good?
THE LORD OF OPIUM benefits from the strong world-building that author Nancy Farmer devised for its predecessor, the National Book Award-winning The House of the Scorpion. Matt is still a fascinatingly complex character, and the cast of supporting players is lively and well drawn.
But this volume feels much more episodic than the first, with Matt moving around his embattled empire, witnessing disturbing events, and skirmishing with various enemies, without as focused a conflict as before. None of the villains is the equal of El Patron from the first book. And, while powerful, the ending seems a bit too easy, given the craftiness of the old drug lord. The Lord of Opium is a solid follow-up that never quite matches the impact of the original.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about cloning. Why is it such a popular theme in science-fiction books and movies? What other cloning stories have you read or seen?
Should research into human cloning be allowed? What are the moral and ethical consequences of such research?
Do you think a nation could really base its economy on the production of one illegal drug? Are there any historical precedents for a narco-confederacy such as Opium?
- Author: Nancy Farmer
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs, Science and Nature
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Atheneum
- Publication date: September 3, 2013
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 17
- Number of pages: 432
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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