In The Dirt Eaters, Roan and his sister Stowe were the only survivors of Longlight, a town living by principles of peace and hidden away from a world devastated by war and toxic waste, until it was destroyed by raiders and its inhabitants massacred. Roan escaped, but he was unable to save Stowe, who was captured and taken away to the city.
Now Roan is living in Newlight, a sanctuary where he is attempting to start a new life, along with friends he met in his travels: Lumpy, a Mor-Tick survivor, and Alandra, a healer. The three of them are caring for fourteen children that they rescued from being sent to the city to be used by the Masters of the City. Like Roan and Stowe, the fourteen children have special abilities, which Alandra has cautiously begun to explore. Alandra has been taking the children to the Dreamfield, a dimension of the spirit that can be reached by eating Dirt, a substance mined from an asteroid impact site which conveys special mental powers to those who eat it. Then disaster strikes, as all fourteen children simultaneously fall into a coma. When Alandra is unable to awake them, Roan and Lumpy set off to try to find a way to save the children.
Meanwhile, Stowe has been deified in the city as “Our Stowe,” an idol created by the Masters to control the population through worship. Stowe is no longer the frightened child she was when she was brought to the city; her training and her experiences have made her wise beyond her years. She plays her roles well – loving adopted daughter to Darius, the Eldest, as well as the idol Our Stowe, but she knows that she is being used and manipulated by Darius. Stowe’s growing powers are formidable, but she is as yet no match for the Masters and Darius, so she meekly bides her time until she can find a way to escape.
It’s impossible to try to describe these books in a few paragraphs, and my description above barely scratches the surface of this rich, complex book. As I was reading this book, it struck me that it reminds me in some ways of one of my all-time favorite books, Frank Herbert’s Dune. Beyond the obvious similarity between The Longlight Legacy’s Dirt and Dune’s melange, both addictive substances with mind-enhancing abilities, there’s a complex web of politics and shifting allegiances and secret orders and spies and traitors and mysticism here that evokes a sense of Dune without being derivative.
In spite of these similarities, The Longlight Legacy is a highly original series. Foon has done an amazing job of creating a richly detailed world populated by a variety of cultures and characters. In this second book of the series, we finally get to know Stowe, and she’s quite a compelling character – in some ways she’s still a young girl, and a girl wounded by her experiences, in other ways, she’s as wily and manipulative as the Masters who trained her. Stowe is also addicted to Dirt, an addiction that sometimes drives her to extremes.
Then there’s Roan, who is wrestling with both the demons of the past and prophecies of the future. Roan must confront his own demons of guilt and loss before he can help the children. Along the way, his preconceptions, and those of the reader, are shattered time and again, as people turn out to be different than Roan has come to believe.
The story is intense and holds your interest, although I did find Stowe’s story to be the more compelling of the two in this book. This is definitely a series that I’m going to want to go back and read again.
There are some horrifying things in the book, such as organ harvesting from children to keep the Masters alive, so this isn’t a book for sensitive readers. Although there is a summary of the first book at the beginning of this one, I highly recommend reading The Dirt Eaters first because of the complexity of the series.