Friday Review: The Lord of Opium by Nancy Farmer (Audiobook)

The Lord of Opium (Matteo Alacran #2)The Lord of Opium by Nancy Farmer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Read by Raul Esparza

In this sequel to The House of the Scorpion, Matt Alacran finds himself back in Opium after his ordeal in Aztlan. El Patron is dead, and so are most of the people he surrounded himself with, including the remaining members of his family. It was the last act of evil from the megalomaniac former ruler of Opium. As his clone, Matt now finds himself legally a person, not an animal, and the new ruler of Opium. He vows to find a way to free the eejits from the microchips that control them, end the drug production that has been the source of Opium’s success under El Patron, and reunite with Maria, who is now with her crusading mother. But Matt soon finds that his ambitions are, as often found, easier said than done. Along with battling the other drug lords, unraveling the secrets of Opium itself, and trying to help heal the devastation of the outside world, Matt has to battle his own demons, not the least of which is the voice of El Patron himself.

I know there are some who feel this was not as good a story as The House of the Scorpion. One of the most common criticisms is that there is not enough action. But, really, this is a completely different sort of story. Where the first is concerned with getting Matt out of the dangers that face him in Opium, and his ordeals and trials after escaping, this second installment is more internal. This is Matt’s coming of age story, where he has to deal not only with the outside forces and issues that surround him, but also with his own internal struggle to find out who he really is. There is some action sprinkled throughout the book, and those parts are exciting and fast-paced. Much of the story here, however, is concerned with Matt’s learning the full extent of El Patron’s machinations in Opium, and discovering that even though the old man did everything for his own gain, much of the result can be now used for good. Matt is also plagued with his own doubts about himself: is he simply a direct, complete copy of El Patron? He certainly hears his voice enough in his head to believe that. Or is he his own person, able to use the things he learned from El Patron when necessary, but also to make his own, individual decisions?

The best part of the story for me is the way it asks questions about the morality and ethical responsibilities of cloning, and confronts the ages old question of nurture versus nature without becoming preachy or bogged down in philosophical wandering. The story remains rooted on Matt and his friends and enemies, and the struggles they confront in their attempts to achieve their goals.

There are some extraordinary characters here. The head of the farm patrol, Cienfuegos, is thorny at times, but much more than just a soldier. The Mushroom Master puts on the mask of an eccentric old scientist, but he is far more clever than he appears. And Matt’s friends from the plankton factory make a wonderful trio of Lost Boys. Even El Patron, as evil and despicable as he is, has aspects to his character that are fascinating to unravel. These are just a few of the intriguing people that populate Matt’s world.

The book is read once again by Raul Esparza, who is an excellent choice. Not only is he bilingual, which makes the Mexican aspects seem more authentic, but his voicing of characters and general pacing of the story help to bring it to life. I would recommend the audio version of this book simply for that.

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