The City of Gold and Lead by John Christopher is the second part of the Tripods Trilogy. Christopher maintains the high standard of writing he set in the first part, The White Mountains. There is plenty of action, enough to keep his young readers interested, and enough characterization to make the people and the aliens in the book memorable.
In The City of Gold and Lead, Will Parker and two other boys from the last group of free humans try to get into the tripod’s city wearing false caps to spy on the tripods, learn as much as they can, and then report back to the un-capped humans hiding out in the white mountains. The city of the masters, the beings who inhabit the tripods, is very interesting stuff. Christopher has done a very good job creating a way of life based on having three legs instead of two.
However, once Will Parker is inside the domed city the camaraderie and conflict among the main characters that was such a vital part of the first book is lost. Will interacts with his alien master and becomes his pet. It’s fascinating to watch Will realize this and try to determine if he is his master’s cat or his master’s dog. Just what does his master want with him? What do they all want with the humans they have taken?
I found this to be the most interesting aspect of The City of Gold and Lead but not for the reasons Mr. Christopher probably intended. Once the humans become the pets, it’s hard not to think about how humans treat their own pets. I ended up reading this part of the book like an expose on the mistreatment of animals. A few of the aliens are good to their human pets, most of them beat their humans, often for no reason. The humans are kept in small, windowless rooms when they are not wanted, fed tasteless food that Will can barely eat. Their lives are shortened by exposure to the alien’s air and increased gravity and once they have outlived their usefulness they are basically put down. I couldn’t help but think of our new dog, just rescued from the local animal shelter after her third time there.
This was on of the first books I reviewed over at my old blog Ready When You Are, C.B. Notice the comment about just getting Dakota towards the end. Dakota really was on her third time at the shelter, which is the last chance a dog gets. She had a house breaking issue that turned out to be a major chronic bladder infection and a very bad case of food aggression that is much better now, but still pretty bad.
In the many, many years this particular review was up at Ready When You Are, C.B. it only got eight views. I don’t expect it to do much better here–I suppose John Christopher is just too out of fashion these days–but since this was one of my favorite childhood books, I’m reposting the review here anyway. Maybe there are eight more people out there looking for it.