Book Review: Salvage

Amazon Cover - Salvage

Book Cover from Amazon

Salvage by Alexandra Duncan



Ava, a teenage girl living aboard the male-dominated deep space merchant ship Parastrata, faces betrayal, banishment, and death. Taking her fate into her own hands, she flees to the Gyre, a floating continent of garbage and scrap in the Pacific Ocean, in this thrilling, surprising, and thought-provoking debut novel that will appeal to fans of Across the Universe, by Beth Revis, and The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. Internationally bestselling author Stephanie Perkins called it “brilliant, feminist science fiction.”

Ava is the captain’s daughter. This allows her limited freedom and a certain status in the Parastrata’s rigid society—but it doesn’t mean she can read or write or even withstand the forces of gravity. When Ava learns she is to be traded in marriage to another merchant ship, she hopes for the best. After all, she is the captain’s daughter. But instead, betrayal, banishment, and a brush with love and death are her destiny, and Ava stows away on a mail sloop bound for Earth in order to escape both her past and her future. The gravity almost kills her. Gradually recuperating in a stranger’s floating cabin on the Gyre, a huge mass of scrap and garbage in the Pacific Ocean, Ava begins to learn the true meaning of family and home and trust—and she begins to nourish her own strength and soul. This sweeping and harrowing novel explores themes of choice, agency, rebellion, and family, and after a tidal wave destroys the Gyre and all those who live there, ultimately sends its main character on a thrilling journey to Mumbai, the beating heart of Alexandra Duncan’s post–climate change Earth. An Andre Norton Award nominee.



A young adult (YA) science-fiction coming-of-age story. Several different venues touched from a broken down post-apocalyptic-feeling spaceship, to a bustling aging space station, to a plastic-trash-mining town in the middle of the ocean, and finally a city in India. 

Some of the readers complained about the unique dialect the isolated spaceship community developed as being hard to follow. Also that the tech language was a bit unapproachable. As a long-time reader of science fiction/fantasy I did not feel either of these fell outside the typical troupe level for the genre; in fact most of the technical language fell solidly within modern science. The only thing I found bad scientifically was Ava’s grandfather sociological study of the spaceship-community; but then he broke nearly every rule of studying an isolated community (which is accurately noted in Salvage).

Ms. Duncan does an excellent job of creating a multi-layer universe. From the unique dialect to the boy’s home and the cultural drift of the spaceship community, everything holds together well. I found Ava’s slow development from a semi-privileged daughter-of-the-captain to a more powerful grown woman believable, especially her long time strength building while residing in Gyre and her frustration as a non-reader in a reading society. The coming-of-age character development has both leaps forward and the back-slides a sixteen year old displays constantly as they go from being a child to an adult both in society and with their body (and the related hormone swings and mental changes).

A couple of things kept this from being perfect. (1) Yet another time when a teenager having sex is immediately punished (at least this time both the girl and boy get about equal bad things happen); (2) Ava is not a Mary-Jane (several times you just want to shake her for being a jerk teenager – this could also be a plus); (3) the instant love between the main character and her first love interest (yes, there are two, but it is not a love triangle except in that comparing new people to the people you lost) – the instant love is believable because Ava first ran into the first-love years earlier (he was the only non-relative male she had every interacted with – so, of course, she crushed on him forever once she reached the age when crushes happen). … I am just tired of the YA instant-love punishment cycle at this point of my life.

Plus side Ava runs into people during her exile who help her because they just do, people who are indifferent, and people that take advantage of her. And, just like real life, there are actually more people who help than harm even if sometimes it doesn’t feel that way.

A really good science fiction YA coming-of-age which I think both genders would enjoy.