Book Review: The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Dystopian, Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (September 5, 2017)

Length: 400 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

It’s a year for pleasant surprises, it seems. The Salt Line is a book that first caught my eye because of its thriller-dystopian premise, but it’s more than just that; author Holly Goddard Jones has created an exciting high-drama experience, the kind that would not go amiss in a Crichton novel, but her story also contains a high level of literary quality that challenges most genre labels.

Taking place in the not-so-distant future, The Salt Line features a world defeated by an enemy smaller than the size of a pea. The United States has even ceded most of its natural territories to this tiny terror, a tick that serves a as a vector to a deadly pathogen. Getting bit by one of these things is scary enough—their life cycle and what it does to the human body is like something straight out of an Alien movie—but the true killer is in fact Shreve’s disease, carried by a large percent of these ticks. For this reason, most people now live in safe zones in which these pests have been eradicated. These enclosed areas are separated from the wilderness, which is where the ticks thrive, by a physical wall as well as a burnt-out dead zone called the Salt Line, a large swath of land that has been purged of all life by fire and chemicals designed to keep the ticks at bay.

Still, there are people who live beyond the Salt Line—some by choice, others by necessity. Then there are the thrill-seekers who pay big money for their chance to go out there, to have a grand adventure to see what’s left of nature. Our story begins with such a group, receiving their first orientation from the tour company that’s being paid to bring them outside the quarantine zone. Those among the expedition include Edie, a former bartender in her 20s who somehow ended being roped into this dangerous excursion by Jesse, her reckless popstar boyfriend. Then there’s Marta, who may seem like just a simple housewife, except she is actually married to a notorious robber baron whose illicit activities she has endured for years because of her love for her children. And of course there’s also Wes, a young billionaire tech prodigy who founded Pocketz, the financial app that has taken the world by storm.

Most of the people on this tour are there because of what the company brochure promised—a chance to experience the untouched beauty of nature. For some, being able to witness sparkling waterfalls and sunrises without the filter of pollution is worth the hundreds of thousands of dollars and the risk of death from a tick bite. But for those mentioned, they have other reasons for wanting to take this trip. And when the expedition is waylaid by a group of rebels and held captive in an outer-zone commune called Ruby City, those secrets begin to come to light, with dire consequences for their chances of returning home.

The unofficial tagline for this book should be The Salt Line: come for the creepy ticks, stay for outstanding characterization and the in-depth exploration of social themes. Those who want suspense and intrigue will get plenty, but there’s no doubt that the novel’s strength is in its rich, character-driven narrative and fantastically written cast. Our key players are all fleshed out with robust back stories, complete with their individual moral dilemmas, conflicting desires, and other very human concerns (I especially loved Marta and Wes). They also come from varied backgrounds, representing the different strata of this troubled society with its extreme socio-economical class divisions. The arrival of the deadly ticks has altered daily life at all levels, impacting issues related to the environment, healthcare, immigration, technology, and more. Though the price of safety and security is high, many appear willing to pay it even if it means being trapped in poor circumstances.

Still, despite its social commentary, I appreciated the way our story maintained its focus on adventure and suspense. Love them or hate them, the characters are at the heart of this novel, and the ambiguities behind their ambitions are the fuel that drives the plot, keeping things engaging. All this and more are presented in a seamless package containing a fine balance of horror, dystopian, and thriller elements.

Would I recommend The Salt Line for fans of dystopian fiction? Yes, but with an added proviso that this genre description merely scratches the book’s surface—a good thing, in my opinion. I got a lot more out of the story than I expected, and enjoyed spending every tense moment in this world with its multifaceted characters. I wouldn’t hesitate to read another novel by Holly Goddard Jones in the future.

25 Comments on “Book Review: The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones”

  1. I have this one to read so I’m glad to see a review. I like that it’s character – driven and really rounds the characters out, and the premise is different too. With the Lyme disease outbreaks we keep hearing about, I guess this is just a dystopian version x1000. And it doesn’t skimp on the adventure/ tension either, sounds like. Good to know, I’m excited about this one now!


    • Yeah, the best horror/sci-fi always takes its cues from the real world, and ugh, Lyme disease and ticks will freak anyone out! Making it a thousand times worse in your book is a good way to make readers pay attention 🙂


  2. All I need to know is that this is “character driven” and you’ve got me😀 I’m not so excited about a BUG story, but it sounds like it’s much more than that.


  3. Your words point to a close-to-perfect novel, with a great balance between story and characters – a book not to be missed, indeed, and one I find attractive *despite* the presence of obnoxious pests 😀
    And it that were not enough, that amazing cover would make me grab the book without a second thought…


    • Yeah, although I hate bugs, I always find myself drawn to horror/science fiction about them. It’s fun sometimes just to frighten yourself! I was happy I got more than just the creeps and thrills from this though 🙂


  4. I hate this type of ‘adventure tourism’ in real life (visit a dictatorship! visit the scene of a nuclear explosion!) and it’s honestly making me dislike all the characters in this before I even pick up the book. Not sure I’d be able to put that out my mind enough to enjoy it! (Way to be super weird, brain!)


    • Haha, sometimes it’s the little things that turn us off from a book. I understand though, I can’t relate to people like that either, but the twist in the story is that most of the main characters are there for deeper reasons…and readers will just have to wait to find out what they are 😉


  5. I love the cover of this one and was curious about maybe reading it. However I’m more interested in a killer tick thing than the characters back stories so it looks like it wouldn’t really be for me. Thanks for the review as it was helpful in getting me to decide!


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