Reviewed by Jody Uy
THE SALT LINE
By Holly Goddard Jones
400 pp. G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
How to Write a Dystopian Novel
What makes a good dystopian story? Loosely defined as a world wherein everything has gone wrong, dystopian novels play well into our penchant for imagining the worst-case scenario and wondering how we’d fare in it. My first ever dystopian novel was The Hunger Games, and I distinctly remember that I was not able to put it down—I’d read it while putting sunblock before swimming, and I’d flip from page to page instead of watching TV. It wasn’t a book that made me particularly ‘kilig’ or happy, but for some reason I was glued to the book despite all the disasters and deaths.
While many other dystopian novels have popped up since The Hunger Games, none have ever really drawn my attention. The whole dystopia craze seems to be dwindling down as well as old premises and clichés are rehashed here and there, accompanied by an awkward smattering of out-of-place romances. The Salt Line, however, is a novel that could teach writers and readers out there a thing or two about just how to write a good dystopian novel. The author of the book, Holly Goddard Jones, accomplishes this feat in four easy (or not so easy) steps.
Step 1: Weave your world
Like any other novel, The Salt Line first sets out to establish its own world for readers to stand on and explore. While “once upon a time” is certainly the most straightforward way to go about this, Jones carefully weaves her world thread by thread in a much more subtle manner. Explanations and information aren’t dumped onto readers by the truckloads, but instead are added like pinches of salt that season the story well without overpowering it. It helps too that this new world isn’t too different from our own—technology, greed, and the need for security and safety rule society, while those who are not so fortunate teeter by the edge. Jones’ world is revealed to us slowly but clearly, drawing parallels with current issues and events that readers can easily imagine and explore.
Step 2: Decide on doom
Miner ticks is the name of the game (or doom, rather) in The Salt Line. While admittedly not a very threatening name for the cause of everyone’s grief, these ticks play a different sort of terrifying tune—one that feeds on paranoia and an insatiable itch. A miner tick is a pest that has emerged on Earth without any explanation. Instead of biting its prey and sucking blood, it burrows deep into the skin and lays eggs that later hatch in the infected area. The newborn ticks come bursting from deep beneath the skin leaving the once soft and smooth surface unimaginably scarred and bloodied. Ticks also carry other diseases along with them, so while you have the chance of surviving a bite, the succeeding sickness may leave you lifeless.
There is no cure or repellent for these pests, so the people have relocated to safe areas, building walls behind the ring of scorched land known as the Salt Line. The main characters of the novel take a thrill-seeking trip beyond this boundary to get a taste of what the world was like before the miner ticks, and it is here where the novel kicks off (and also where everything snowballs downhill).
Step 3: Create a cast
The Salt Line is a rather long read (a fair warning to those allergic to thick books with X number of chapters) but the characters and their individual stories act like Russian nesting dolls with different faces and surprises to keep you hooked. Readers venture through the landscape of The Salt Line through the eyes of a different character in each chapter. Voices ring loud and distinct from one another in the book, adding an extra layer of excitement and interest as the novel races on.
We first meet Edie, initially labeled as the girlfriend of the airhead pop sensation Jesse, who quickly makes a name for herself among the group of travelers. Then there’s Marta, your typical mother and wife to a wealthy and influential man, who gets caught in the crossfire but holds more surprises than anyone might’ve guessed. Last (though there are still several more that will take too long to mention!) is Wes, a genius program developer who has unknowingly caused ripples in the world of The Salt Line that echo through each chapter. While the book’s premise is already a great reason to get started reading it, the colorful cast of characters keeps you going, but more importantly, also get you thinking—who would I be if I were in the same situation? Would I do the same? How would I end up?
Step 4: Complicate and mix well
Everything appears to be cleanly set up for the novel—the world is woven, doom decided, cast created—but Jones manages to add a huge helping of Complications that keep readers flipping page after page. Old, seemingly trivial information presented early on in the book is pulled back into the fray to both haunt us and keep us hooked. All in all, the novel manages to capture some of the most potent fears and vices that grip our current society by the neck. We’re invited to not just think about the world that Jones has created and where it is headed, but also look out the window and into the one we live in too to ask ourselves where we’re headed as well.
The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones will be available soon at Fully Booked. To reserve a copy, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jody is currently an undergraduate student taking up Education and is discovering everyday the greatest bits about reading and learning that fuel our thinking. When she’s not drowning in readings for class, she drowns herself in music, books, and the wonders of the Internet. You can find her on Instagram @ohfishness.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]