The Lord of Opium



Sci-fi sequel is gripping but can't top original.

What parents need to know

Educational value

The Lord of Opium presents a fairly realistic picture of a future Earth ravaged by ecological disasters. It also raises questions about the ethics of cloning, drug production and forced labor. The author provides an appendix that details some of the factual background of the novel.

Positive messages

The Lord of Opium emphasizes the notion that every person, no matter his or her circumstances, has worth, and that those who dismiss or prey upon the weak risk losing their own humanity.

Positive role models

In his role as the new version of the evil drug lord El Patron, Matt must make some terrible decisions if he wants to survive along with his friends trapped in Opium. Even though the voice of the old Patron whispers in his ear, Matt struggles to improve the lives of the "eejits" who run the farm, and he refrains from being needlessly cruel. When things go wrong, and people get hurt because of his actions, Matt has the empathy to feel guilty and sad. Throughout The Lord of Opium he finds the inner strength to turn away from the temptations placed before him.


Violence in The Lord of Opium is more often implied that shown directly. The "eejit" servants are treated with indifferent cruelty by nearly everyone except Matt. They work until they drop and are disposed of after their expiration date. There are many offstage killings. A child's hand is melted by a scanning device. A gunfight leaves one character seriously injured. Matt makes decisions that result in the deaths of innocents.


Matt's attracted to and has feelings for the beautiful "eejit" servant he calls Marisol. He knows, however, that he must never give in to his urge to kiss her or otherwise express physical affection. Matt's also emotionally connected to Maria, the daughter of one of his untrustworthy allies. Although they do little more than kiss, he's ready to propose marriage to her at the age of 15.


Nothing stronger than "hell." The characters occasionally use the word "crot," which is viewed as a curse.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

As its name suggestions, the territory of Opium survives because of its mega-scale drug production. But Matt and other characters in The Lord of Opium don't use opiates themselves. Matt's advisor/bodyguard drinks alcohol, and some Russian thugs smoke marijuana.

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. 

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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.

Families can talk 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?

Book details

Author:Nancy Farmer
Genre:Science Fiction
Topics:Friendship, Great boy role models, Misfits and underdogs, Science and nature
Book type:Fiction
Publication date:September 3, 2013
Number of pages:432
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 17
Available on:Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

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  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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