Bewildering Stories

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Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion

reviewed by Jerry Wright

Picture of Book Jacket
The House of the Scorpion
By Nancy Farmer
ISBN #0689852223
400 Pages, $17.95

Fascinating, the books one can find by accident. I was browsing down at the local library, when I thought I'd check over in the juvenile section to see what was there. You never know. That's where I found my first Robert A. Heinlein, after all, and Diana Wynn Jones, for example.

So there was this book in the "New Books" section called "The House of the Scorpion". Hmmm. Striking cover. (Mine didn't have all the award medals on it, those came later...) Nancy Farmer. Name sounds familiar, so I picked it up.

Hmm. Clones. Kinda passe', and it takes place in Mexico, well, Atzlan. I opened it at random, and read about this boy who was being kept in a little room with a floor covered with chicken litter, only right now he was being brought before El Patron, of whom everyone was afraid, but who was surprisingly nice to Matt, his clone!

The writing was well done, and the story, even jumping into the middle, was riveting. So I checked it out. And it sat. I had other books to read, and this one was, well, a juvenile after all, and the cover was kind of a boring red...

So I read the other books I had and dove in. And it captured me and carried me along.

Matt is a clone, created to supply body parts to Matteo Alacran -- El Patron -- and illegally allowed full intelligence, as most clones have their higher brain functions destroyed at birth. The fields of "Opium", the land where Matt lives, are harvested by "eejits", runaways and "criminals" who've had a control chip implanted in their brain to turn them into easily controlled slaves. All in all, this isn't a pleasant place to live, and the free people are in many ways like the scorpion, el Alacran, the tutelary creature of this nasty place.

The book traces the rise of Matt's awareness of what it means to be Alacran's clone. It delineates kindness, love, horror and evil, and is a book to appeal to both young ones and adults.

Highly recommended.

Copyright © 2003 by Jerry Wright