Dystopian fiction attempts to answer many questions. How will humans survive in the face of a global disaster? What lengths will they go to protect everything and everyone they hold dear? What will they let go of in the end? What will they discover about themselves? The answers to these questions hold an immense amount of power over readers of this genre and “The Salt Line” appears, at the surface, ready and willing to provide its own answers to these questions.
“The Salt Line,” by the end, was quite a disappointing read. With no palpable threat from the ticks that are threatening the survival of the human race, if one follows the strict protocol explained by the expedition team (or even if the characters would just stay in the walled cities), there is a low chance a bite and death will occur.
By the end of the story, readers may be left feeling confused and uncaring. None of the characters are memorable and the structure of the tick-infested world is never full explained. A book that showed promise in its blurbs and accompanying promotional material fell hopelessly flat by the final page.
The story is told from multiple point of views. With multiple points of view, it’s important to be drawn to one or two characters whether that connection is driven by love or loathing. Not enough time is spent with any one character in “The Salt Line” to give the reader enough time to care if they live or die should they get bitten by a tick or shot by another character (there is a lot of gun waving in this book). The characters are pieces on a chess board and when it serves the plot best, the reader jumps to that person’s point of view.
Coupled with a lack of character empathy, strange layers of political machinations and dirty business dealings attempt to be the main driving forces of the plot. But it is hard to pin down what exactly was going on and what is at stake especially when a particularly disappointing side effect is revealed related to a tick repellent.
This political and business intrigue is meant to cause tension, but it merely causes confusion. With so little time is spent with the characters learning their motivations and desires, the reader never truly understands what is at stake for each individual if the proposals actually come to fruition. On top of that, so little is known about the actual political structure and zone mechanics, it’s hard to understand what is at stake for the country if the proposals actually happen.
It is possible that “The Salt Line” is striving to be a character-driven story vs. a plot-driven story. The epilogue in the story is of a different tone than the rest of the story and adds an unexpected softness. Paired with Goddard’s acknowledgments, the reader may be left feeling in the sidelines of the story and its actual intentions and left wondering exactly what the point of the story actually is.
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“The Salt Line” needed more focus on both the character development and the world-building to give more weight to the story and heart to the characters and to tease out the intentions expressed by Goddard in the epilogue and acknowledgments. The reader may want to like these characters and feel the fear this tick-infested world, but in the end, disappointment will reign as not enough time is spent on the bones of the story that creates these feelings.