Buckle up, Young Adult readers: Ally Condie is back. After making a massive splash with her Matched trilogy, she published some fantastic Middle Grade books (check out Summerlost and The Dark Deep). This year we’re being treated to her new YA novel, The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe, and it sounds amazing.
Described by the publisher as “part murder mystery, part revenge novel [and] part coming-of-age story,” it’s a book you won’t want to put down. Here’s a bit more about the plot from Dutton:
There is something Poe Blythe, the 17-year-old captain of the Outpost’s last mining ship, wants far more than the gold they tear from the Serpentine River.
Poe has vowed to annihilate the river raiders who robbed her of everything two years ago. But as she navigates the treacherous waters of the Serpentine and realizes there might be a traitor among her crew, she must also reckon with who she has become, who she wants to be and the ways love can change and shape you. Even—and especially—when you think all is lost.
As a special treat for Paste readers, we’re thrilled to exclusively reveal the book trailer and share an excerpt from Chapter 1. Watch, read and get excited.
Dutton Books for Young Readers will release The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe on March 26th.
“We talk about you.”
“I know,” I say to the Admiral. He tells me this as we sit up in a room in the scrap yard’s wooden office building, waiting for the rest of his advisers to arrive. The Admiral’s Quorum—a group of four, three men and one woman—advise and assist him with running the Outpost. I’ve heard snatches of what the Quorum says behind my back, the stories they tell. Some good, some bad. Some true, some false.
They say I live in the Admiral’s pocket.
That I’m actually afraid of the rivers.
They whisper about how I was a machinist when I first went on the dredge two years ago, and then came home with a weaponist’s mind and thirst for blood.
Two days after Call died, while our crew was making the long trek back to the Outpost, I had my first “revelation.” That’s what the Admiral calls it. He tells the Quorum, “God tells her something in her sleep, and then she draws the designs for it when she wakes up.”
My first one was about an armor for the dredge that kills any raiders who try to board. The other revelations have been about how to perfect it.
There are two problems with the Admiral’s revelation theory. First, I don’t believe in God, so he can’t talk to me. Second, I don’t think I actually sleep deep enough to dream anymore.
The Admiral and I watch the workers crawling over the dredge in the yard below. The ship came off the river yesterday, and it’s been hauled inland to the scrap yard for repairs.
It’s the hot-orange, simmering-sunset time of day, bearable only because of the knowledge that there are just a few hours left until the cool of night. The crew must be sweating as they repair the armor on the dredge. I know from working on the scrap yard with Call how it feels to have your clothes wet and dry and wet again over the hours of the day; your hands smudged black with dirt and oil; skin tight across your nose from the sun; eyes scalded and dry from looking closely at shining metal, fitted gears.
That’s as much as I’ll let myself remember.
There’s a flurry of movement in the yard as the workers change positions. The dredge bristles with variations on front- and side-facing gears. Armor. When the ship is moving, its exterior crawls like an animal covered in parasites. The gears are strong enough to snap a bone like a twig, a hunk of iron like a tree branch.
For decades, the two dredges the Outpost owned were nothing but great metal hulks from a long-past time. They sat out at the edge of the city, along with all the other remnants and machinery too large to bother moving. When this Admiral took power, he began to repair things, to try and figure out a way to make the Outpost thrive instead of just survive. He brought some of the old relics to the machinists’ scrap yard for cleaning and repair, including the dredges. The raiders burned one the night Call died. Now there’s a single ship left to run the rivers for gold.
“Ah,” says the Admiral. “Welcome.” The others have arrived. General Dale, Bishop Weaver, General Foster, Sister Haring. They shake hands with the Admiral and nod to me.
My position at these meetings is always strange. I’m not part of the Quorum. I only attend meetings concerning the dredge. And the citizens of the Outpost consider me a peculiarity. Not a person. When we pass in the street, they smile and keep their distance. Which makes sense. I’m aligned with the people in power, and it’s best not to disturb them. That’s common knowledge in the Outpost. Everyone’s got their work to keep them busy, everyone’s got to scrape to keep alive. We mind our own business. That’s what’s kept the Outpost viable all these years, on our own, without another major city or settlement within hundreds of miles.
And I also understand why the Quorum hasn’t taken me under their collective wing. I’m not officially a member of their group. I’m much younger than they are. And the Quorum may not have any qualms about the people I kill, but no one wants to be close to a murderer.
There’s something off about her. I’ve heard it whispered. Not just lately. All my life.
“Thank you for meeting us here,” says the Admiral.
“It’s our pleasure,” says Sister Haring. Her neat blond hair is pulled up in a bun. She’s very beautiful. I don’t like her at all. I don’t like any of them, but I like her the least because she smiles at me the most.
“Please,” says the Admiral. “Sit.” The wooden table and chairs in the room are scarred with use. Stray stubs of pencil and bits of paper have been left behind from other meetings. This is how the Admiral likes it. I don’t know where the Quorum usually meets, but whenever we gather here to discuss the dredge, the Admiral wants the room left as it is from when the people who actually work on the yard use it. He likes the workaday, part-of-it-all feeling it gives him.
Bishop Weaver takes his seat on the right hand of the Admiral. When I’m in meetings with the Admiral, he likes me to sit on his left.
The Devil’s hand, people used to call it.
I wonder who sits on his left when I’m not here.
General Dale’s eyes linger on me in his usual calculating way. Sister Haring smiles politely. I don’t care what they think of or about me. My job is to design the armor for the dredge and keep both working. Not to talk to the Quorum, not to bother about what it is they do.
“I have good news to report from the most recent voyage.” The Admiral leans forward, rests his elbows on the table. He’s tall and broad-shouldered, with a square-cut sandy beard and piercing blue eyes. His skin is always a little pink, like he’s been out in the sun working hard. His lips are chapped, the hair on his strong arms bleached by the sun. Years ago, when the time came to choose a new Admiral, the Outpost couldn’t resist him. He has big ideas, and he looks like a man of the people. As always, he wears a blue work shirt, brown trousers, scuffed black work boots, a silk tie loosely secured around his collar like an afterthought. A casual gesture to his status.
I’m dressed exactly like him, except for the tie. And I wear my hair long, in braids.
I wonder what Call would say if he could see me now. None of this is what he would have wanted. Except he’d want me alive, and this is the way I’ve found to do it.
“The Gilded Lily performed perfectly,” says the Admiral.
I hate the name they’ve given the ship. I don’t think of it as she, or he for that matter. It’s the dredge. It’s a piece of metal.
It’s not alive.
“We took in twice the gold we expected,” the Admiral says. His eyes light up the way they do whenever he talks about gold, and he cannot completely control the emotion in his voice.
It’s the same thing that happens when he needs to address the people, but this is raw. Unintended. Caught in glimpses instead of put on for a sermon.
“Ah,” says Sister Haring, satisfied. Bishop Weaver raises his eyebrows, and General Dale smiles.
General Foster actually presses his palms together in pleasure. “Wonderful,” he says.
“It was by far our most successful voyage yet.” The Admiral waits a beat before speaking again. “Even though no raiders were killed.”
The members of the Quorum each flicker with movement at this. An intake of breath, a folding of arms, a recrossing of legs. I feel eyes shift to me.
“No raiders died,” says the Admiral, “because our machine’s reputation is such that not a single one of them tried to board.”
General Dale folds his arms. “That’s interesting.” Our eyes meet. There is a challenge in his. As if he thinks my armor isn’t enough threat to keep the raiders away.
As if he’s forgotten all the rust-colored stains on the armor when the dredge has returned from other voyages. All the ways my prickling, moving gears have ground the raiders into pulp when they tried to board.
“We saw raiders along the banks, watching and following,” says the Admiral, “but none dared attempt an attack.”
We saw. That’s what he says. But the truth is that none of us in this room go on the voyages. The Admiral stays behind in his house on the bluff and I sit in my apartment down in the city. He thinks about gold and government and I think about killing and Call.
“It’s time,” the Admiral says. “We’re ready to cull the Serpentine.”
“Good,” says Sister Haring, at the same time that Bishop Weaver says, “At last,” his intonation like a prayer.
The Serpentine River. The biggest river in the area; the one with the most potential for gold. We’ve waited because it’s going to be the most difficult to dredge. It’s long and deep, and goes far into raider territory.
A small smile curls my lips, and I bow my head to hide my pleasure at the Admiral’s decision. I hope the raiders find the courage to try and board the ship. So we can cut them down.
“To ensure that everything goes smoothly, Lieutenant Blythe will be on this voyage.”
My head jerks up in surprise. He wants me to go?
That’s not what we agreed, I want to say to him. I designed the armor for the ship in exchange for my life and for the lives of the others on the dredge on my first voyage. My only voyage.
We lost the ship, we lost the gold. We knew the Admiral might order our deaths, but my revelation about the armor saved us. It gave me leverage. Something to bargain with.
I look at the Admiral, at his clear eyes and the very straight line of his mouth. I work for him. I live under his protection. And I never, ever underestimate the danger of my situation.
“This is the most important voyage yet,” the Admiral says. “I don’t want anything to go wrong. I want the killing mechanisms to work.”
“They’ll work,” I say.
“And you’ll be there in case they don’t,” he says, a cool finality in his tone.
If the Admiral tells you to do something, you do it.
Or you die.
You would think that after Call died, I wouldn’t care anymore about dying. But I do. I saw him. I saw his eyes looking up and seeing nothing. I saw how gone he was. I knew he was nowhere else in the world or beyond. He was over.
The Quorum watches.
Why does the Admiral want me to go on this voyage, and not any of the others? Has he decided that he’s tiring of me? Is this a trap of some sort?
That might be the case. It might not. Either way, I may as well make the most of the situation. “That’s right,” I say to the advisers. I hold each of their gazes in turn. Sister Haring is not smiling now. And then I meet the Admiral’s eyes. “I’m going on the ship as Captain.”
I have to give the Admiral credit. He doesn’t even blink. All I see is a slight tightening of his lips that shows I’ve surprised him.
And that he’s angry.