Book Review: Salt (The Last Flotilla) by Colin Barnes. A waterlogged dystopian whodunit that’s rather flavorless in execution.

Salt (The Last Flotilla) by Colin F. Barnes
Salt (The Last Flotilla) by Colin F. Barnes

Solar Storms have boiled up the water trapped in Earth’s crust. The world as we know it is drowned. Only a flotilla with 125 people are left. The survivors and garbage float on endless oceans, sustained by whatever salvage they can find, subsisting on mostly sushi and seaweed tea, it seems. They live at the mercy of sharks, dangerous rains carrying infectious organisms… and each other. Salt (The Last Flotilla) by Colin F. Barnes is a murderously fast-paced dystopian mystery-thriller where everything seems to go down the porthole real fast. Before our hapless heroine can figure out whose gone done the first crime, she’s saddled with a second, and a third and a…well, you get the point.

I hardly ever read mysteries just on their own. I read them inserted as plot arcs in fantasy, science-fiction, or something else.  If it’s a plain old mystery, it’s got to be Agatha Christie good with clues and red-herrings dropped in subtle-like so that by the time you’re 60% through you think you have a chance of solving things even though most likely you are utterly wrong as there is a much more elegant and totally logical solution you missed that will only be revealed 90-95% through (Sherlock Holmes being my only exception because it’s Sherlock-frickin’-Holmes and I’m not supposed to completely understand how he comes to his genius deductions even after its all over. Also I just love the characters).

Holmes be Holmes

In the case of Salt, yeah… I needed to take it with more than a few grains of its namesake because if I stripped the story bare of its dystopian trappings there wouldn’t be much left to help me float on the plain old watery plot. At the 61% mark in my kindle, I had a very strong feeling that I knew who the culprit was but I was hoping I was a bumbling fool of a detective and would be downright wrong. But, the plot went onward, dropping golden nuggets—red herrings, surely!—chapter by chapter until the inevitable and unsurprising reveal. And to make matters worse, our resident villain—once he has captured our main heroine and is supposedly about to kill her—precipitates his own demise by stalling the death blow with…”You just be quiet while I tell you a little story.” Of all the… Seriously Mr. Barnes? Why’d you have to go and pull that one when the camel’s back is already broken?

In terms of the sci-fi elements contributing to the world’s-gone-to-shit theme, I was more impressed. I like the idea of people wearing ridiculous “salt masks” to protect themselves from catching infectious bacterial spores that remain dormant in salty conditions—I appreciated the effort the author took to come up with this premise and provide some specific science-y details as to how the whole shebang works. I like that they had to quarantine people, and there were scientists hard at work trying to figure things out to save the world (as opposed to being evil scientists, for a change). I like the explanation as to how the flotilla society operated overall. I didn’t particularly enjoy the religious-zealots-condemning-everyone-to-burn-in-hell theme (I hate religious zealots in most all stories… only exception I can think of where I wanted to read that stuff was when it came in the form of the priest, Hrathen, from Elantris). But, I do acknowledge that it would be odd if some people didn’t turn to religion for guidance during such chaotic times and therefore become easy targets for them loonies.

Possibly my biggest gripe against Salt (The Last Flotilla) was how the author went about delivering the plot. A character on its own had somewhat of a backstory and somewhat of an interesting motivation/internal conflict that was somewhat explored in the course of the story and yes, somewhat made me like them, even, but they were merely puppets when it came to bringing about the plot. Argh. Don’t use little kids as bait. I’m so so tired of that trope. Especially when the little kid, who has no real role in the story and very little page time, is used as a plot device to force a hand. I felt ABSOLUTELY NO TENSION OR FEAR OR CARE that the kid was possibly going to be thrown overboard if so-and-so didn’t give in to crazy person’s demands. The little kid in this story was more like a skin-tag—totally unnecessary except as the above-mentioned plot device. It doesn’t help that our heroine was supposed to take care of the kid, but it was only ever an after-thought for her and totally felt insincere the entire time. In fact, all the adults were super patronizing to the kid and never really bothered to actually take care of the poor dude despite tons of verbal promises thrown left and right.

And the murders that kept happening … I just didn’t give a damn after a while. The characters themselves weren’t important. From the way the author was writing things I got the feeling that it was the fact that they were murdered that was important, you know, to add to the murder count and keep me worried about the fate of our main crew. This is usually fine with me, but too many nameless faceless people going over start making me not care a twit about…everything. In a bid to try to make their deaths more impactful, the author explains why I should care after the fact when he should have made me care about them before.

So, not to spread anymore bad juju around, I’ll end my review here and say that it wasn’t the delightful dystopian I thought it would be. Still worth reading if you can devour mystery-thrillers in a day or so, but if you’re a slow reader who expects to be rewarded at the end, I think you’ll be disappointed.

3 bottles of Jim’s secret stash of uncut rum

Here’s an excerpt right from the beginning:

It took just a few weeks for the world to end.

Before the solar storms melted the ice and set off the earthquakes, releasing massive quantities of water trapped in the Earth’s crust, Eva had lived every day with verve and optimism. Even with a positive approach to things, she could still hear the radio broadcasts by panicked geologists and climatologists as they struggled to piece together the data.

It turned out some of them were correct about how much trapped water there actually was, compacted and held within miles and miles of rock.

The barrage of solar storms instigated a domino effect of catastrophic disasters, bursting open the crusts with the movement of the plates. The internal heat and pressure pushed up the trapped water, both heating and adding to the volume in the seas by an order of magnitude that no one could have predicted.

Despite such a monumental disaster, Eva had tried to stay optimistic. Humanity was highly adaptive—she held on to that. It was all she truly had now that Mike was leaving.



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