Lien works as a scout for scavenger supply runs and a shopkeep in a wasteland known as the Scab. Her body has been severely altered by the Change, which is the aftermath of wars from people long ago. She is visited by a “halfer” with “prefab” parts named Yusuf, who resembles a centaur, his bottom half being that of a horse. He offers her a hefty sum of money to guide him and an associate of his through the Scab and into the City. She accepts the offer only after Yusuf leaves a photo of a room Lien remembers from her childhood, before she was changed.
Lien and Yusuf, along with Servertu, the mysterious cloaked figure who rode atop Yusuf’s back make way for the City, and it’s a treacherous journey. They come across mutants and mercenaries determined to kill. They must also guard themselves from the post-apocalyptic landscape that can alter their bodies beyond repair.
The detail Ow gives to the landscapes, mutants, atmosphere, and anatomy is grotesque and beautiful. The world building is impressive, and I was truly invested in all of the characters. I very much appreciated that each time someone was introduced, they gave their pronouns with no fuss, and there’s a discussion of how people pre-Change saw many things in binaries, or dualities, that do not exist in the new world. Was refreshing to see what I perceived as an asexual character represented, as well.
Amongst all the mutants, radiation, and the ruins of civilization we find what it means to be human. And it doesn’t always look like what you might expect.
Cradle and Grave would be great for fans of Jeff Vandermeer and N.K. Jemisin.