Matteo Alacrán was not born; he was harvested.
His DNA came from El Patrón, lord of a country called Opium–a strip of poppy fields lying between the United States and what was once called Mexico. Matt’s first cell split and divided inside a petri dish. Then he was placed in the womb of a cow, where he continued the miraculous journey from embryo to fetus to baby. He is a boy now, but most consider him a monster–except for El Patrón. El Patrón loves Matt as he loves himself, because Matt is himself.
As Matt struggles to understand his existence, he is threatened by a sinister cast of characters, including El Patrón’s power-hungry family, and he is surrounded by a dangerous army of bodyguards. Escape is the only chance Matt has to survive. But escape from the Alacrán Estate is no guarantee of freedom, because Matt is marked by his difference in ways he doesn’t even suspect.
It’s always good to begin with a debate. We weren’t entirely convinced that this was a dystopian book, there was a viewpoint that this was a SF novel, with a dystopian backdrop. In the end, I think we narrowly agreed that it *just* squeezed into the dystopian category.
There was a lot of landscape – the author was from Arizona and seemed to have a love for the land that was quite evident. The geo-political breakdown was something that many of us really enjoyed. It was interesting to consider a much reduced US, and a considerably more successful Mexico. You’d have to be a really committed border jumper to risk becoming an eijit. There was also an environmental aspect that was very topical – that a dessert has been created in previously fertile land. At least one of us (ME!) found it hilarious that Ireland is now one of the worlds most successful states. As it should be of course.
There seem to be a lot of books or films about organ harvesting at the moment. We wondered if perhaps we are being softened up as a society into accepting this as a medical alternative. Oh how we laughed until someone pointed out that there are parts of the world where it is rumoured that criminals are executed to order to provide organs from those prepared to pay the right price. Which of course led us to discussing the black market in organs…eewww. And that the wealthy are still more likely to receive better medical care in much of the planet. I mean, I know it’s a dystopian club, but it all got very dark very quickly.
The eijits were truly creepy. The idea of single function people, deliberately reduced so that they could be controlled, was something that we found particularly effective at inducing goosebumps on the spine! Frequently referred to as cattle; the eijits would continue at a task until ordered to stop or they dropped dead. Did I mention iiiiccckkkk! Once the chip was inserted, there was no capacity to reverse the process which made the whole concept even worse. Poor Rosa!
We also discussed the clones being bred in a cow. Given how awful the world was, I for one was surprised to find that it had led to bullying (though obviously the family of El Patron had other reasons to find Matt’s presence abhorrent). The cloning process itself was one that we would pretty fascinating.
Matt – the main character – had agency and direction despite his environment. This becomes clear when he leaps out of the window to meet children his own age; during the birthday party; when he insists on a kiss from Marie. Even his throwing himself into his studies – despite knowing his fate though we couldn’t quite get our heads around how he ever thought that El Patron would do anything other than destroy him. We also discussed the two faced nature of certain characters. Stephen was a bad guy who seemed good. Ton Ton is a good guy who seemed to be bad. Tam Lin was one of the few sort of decent characters within the book. El Patron was clearly a total psychopath. Or bastard, which was the word used I think. Tom was very thinly drawn and in the main we didn’t really enjoy his character at all. So very one dimensional. We were particularly disgusted by the keepers and their treatment of the Lost Boys.
The dog was something that greatly irritated us. Obviously we didn’t want it to die – but it seemed pointless. Were the atrocities against humans not believed to be bad enough by the author, that she felt she needed to include this? For a dog, it was heartbreaking, for humans there was disinterest? Very strange. Perhaps, we speculated, it was to parallel what Marie thought about Matt and the dog? Marie was a bit deflating throughout the book. While she had a laudable intention to rescue abandoned ‘things’, she lacked any emotional depth. And honestly, I think quite a few of us were pretty tired of the whole fall in love as children, fall in love for ever trope.
The theories of Nature versus Nurture also occupied us for a time. Towards the end of the book – Matt assumes the position of El Patron. Will he become as his DNA originator? Will the differences between the environments that they were raised change anything? Matt plans to tear apart the empire…but will he? Oooh, we had fun with that one! A most successful ambiguous ending. It tied up many of the loose ends…but not all of them!
Despite a few aspects that we found lacking; most of us were determined to read the sequel…primarily because we weren’t entirely sure that a sequel was strictly speaking necessary! We were curious to see what would happen next.
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