Review: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Title: Ship Breaker
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Publisher: Little, Brown
Publication Date: May 1, 2010
Series: Ship Breaker #1
Links: Amazon | Goodreads
Source: Borrowed
In America’s Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota—and hopefully live to see another day.

But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it’s worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life....
I've got some mixed feelings about Ship Breaker. I like the characters. They are flawed and are affected by their upbringings and surroundings, which gives them some depth. I don't identify with any of them, but I can sympathize. I like what Bacigalupi does with class distinctions and preconceptions in the story, though at times it does feel like it becomes a little too prevalent in the dialogue and actions of the characters. Some of the dialogue feels superfluous, and on several occasions I just want the conversation to move on because the point has already been made.

The story is good, but the plot pacing feels a bit slow and tedious in some places. Like some of the conversations, there are parts in the story line when I want things to just move on a bit quicker. The setting and world building, though, are fantastic. The imagery is vivid without being overdone, and it's really easy to imagine this eroding world. And it might not be far off from a future reality. (True fact: Louisiana loses nearly a football field of coastal land every half hour.)

There's some interesting content in Ship Breaker as well. People of all sorts of races intermingle without issue, but the world has started infusing human DNA with that of animals to create a sort of slave race. It's a really creepy addition to the story, and it allows the book to raise some fundamental questions regarding humanity, nature/instincts, and independence of thought and actions. There's also a good bit of violence, so if that's something that would bother you then you may want to skip this one. But the violent stuff is included in such a way that it ties in with the nature/instincts and survival motifs.

Overall, I like Ship Breaker but don't really love it. There are a lot of things about it that I find to be really clever. I love the world building. The characters and the story line are good. My one real complaint is that there are some parts that do seem to drag a bit. But I can definitely see why it won the Printz and Locus awards. I'd recommend it to those looking for something that's different, with some depth to it, and a bit of adventure.


  1. Great review! I had the same thoughts when I read this one as well, the world-building is creepy but really good but I didn't love the book either.

  2. I totally see where you come from. The world building is amazing and I give credit to the author for coming up with such an interesting and original world with great attention to detail. The story had some pacing issues though. Not sure what the second book would be about... It felt more like a standalone.

  3. Thanks. I'm glad I'm not the only one who was frustrated by the pacing in places. The second book is called The Drowned Cities, so I imagine it'll have something to do with those. I don't see a synopsis released anyplace yet. Whether I read it will likely depend on that.

  4. I've been dying to read this one for ages, but I see quite a bit of mixed feedback on it so I think I better dial back my expectations a little before actually picking it up...


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