Book of the Week - House of the Scorpion

House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

Fields of white opium poppies stretch away over the hills, and uniformed workers bend over the rows, harvesting the juice. This is the empire of Matteo Alacran, a feudal drug lord in the country of Opium, which lies between the United States and Aztlan, formerly Mexico. Field work, or any menial tasks, are done by "eejits," humans in whose brains computer chips have been installed to insure docility. Alacran, or El Patron, has lived 140 years with the help of transplants from a series of clones, a common practice among rich men in this world. The intelligence of clones is usually destroyed at birth, but Matt, the latest of Alacran's doubles, has been spared because he belongs to El Patron. He grows up in the family's mansion, alternately caged and despised as an animal and pampered and educated as El Patron's favorite. Gradually he realizes the fate that is in store for him, and with the help of Tam Lin, his bluff and kind Scottish bodyguard, he escapes to Aztlan. There he and other "lost children" are trapped in a more subtle kind of slavery before Matt can return to Opium to take his rightful place and transform his country.

House of the Scorpion has the pacing of a war drum, a slow and steady throb that builds in intensity and noise as the story progresses. In the beginning there is the feeling of loneliness, the thing that captured the reader, but underneath there is something more sinister. With each passing chapter there are large amounts of dramatic irony. The reader becomes painfully aware of the misfortune that will befall young Matteo, and this continues to build the anticipation as they wait for him to also realize this. Halfway through the book is Matteo’s escape. This begins a new and different kind of drum. It too is quick and scary, but the stakes are very different. It is no longer Matteo’s immediate life that is at stake, but rather his freedom and that is just as menacing. The second half of the book is quick, hitting every proper plot point without letting up. Farmer goes from one chase to the next, one bad guy to the next, and she doesn’t let up until the very end.