REVIEW: The City of Gold and Lead (The Tripods Book 2) (1967)

A book by John Christopher

After getting back into Watching The Tripods television show from the BBC in 1984, I have decided to get back into trying to finish up the book series that is based on. There are four books in the series, and they are fairly quick reads due to being “young readers” books before that was even thing (as these came out in the last 60s). They are good books for older kids or young teens because they have some pretty solid adventure content, as well as some lessons kids can learn. For example, the main characters don’t always do everything that is morally right due to their quest for survival, and usually the book talks about it in a way that shows they know what they have done is wrong. Considering most kid’s books nowadays don’t really do this, I feel reading classics like this is important.

The first book is a tale of three teenagers named Will, Henry, and Jean-Paul as they are questing towards the fabled “White Mountains” in Europe in order to live as free men. In their world (in around 2089), the earth has been over-run and controlled by a race of strange three-legged machines called “Tripods”. Tripods lord over humanity, forcing everyone over the age of 15 to have a procedure done called “capping” wherein a metal mess crown is applied to a persons head. These caps result in making the recipients feel no need to rebel against their captors and selflessly serve them if at all necessary. On the way, they faced many hardships, and managed to actually kill one of the beasts, but the real challenge is yet to come.

Will and his friends return to the City of the Tripods—and risk their lives—in this second book of a classic alien trilogy ideal for fans of Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave and Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Shadow Children series. When Will and his friends arrived at the White Mountains, they thought everything would be okay. They’d found a safe haven where the mechanical monsters called Tripods could not find them. But once there, they wonder about the world around them and how they are faring against the machines. In order to save everyone else, Will and his friends want to take down the Tripods once and for all. That means journeying to the Tripod capital: the City of Gold and Lead.

This book contains the trope that basically ALL post-apocalyptic Teen Young reader books have since about 2000 or so. The characters have to train in some sort of athletic training in order to be the ones that try to take the invaders down, there’s a plot device that makes it impossible for adults to do much more than just coach them on. This is later used in pretty much everything in the genre such as Hunger Games, Divergent or The Fifth Wave. It might seem trope-y and tired, but remember the three core books were published in 1967/68. If anything, this book is the progenitor of all modern Young Reader/Young adult science fiction literature, and sadly most young folks have likely never heard of it!

In this story, the Freemen concoct a way to gather information in the Tripod City by infiltrating a series of Olympic-styled games held in Germany wherein the winners get to travel into the domed fortress. Each boy trains for a specific event, but only Will and a new friend named Fritz make the cut. This leaves Jean-Paul and Henry on the sidelines for most of this book.

One of my favorite little tidbits is that this is one of the few books about aliens that actually tries to make them….well….ALIEN in both physiology and culture to the degree that it isn’t just a Star Trek “funny forehead” alien. “The Masters”, the name given to the alien race that uses the Tripods and resides in the titular “City of Gold and Lead”, are odd looking triangular beings with three eyes, two mouths, and tentacle-like appendages. They can only survive in extremely hot, humid temperatures with an air composition that is poisonous to humans. They have trouble moving around on Earth, and need human slaves in order to survive. This is the reason for the “capping” and all the pretense where they hold various contests to reward people with trips to the city, never to return.

Speaking of the City of Lead and Gold, humans need a special suit in order to live inside. Once in, humans generally have a life expectancy of a mere 4-5 years, and that is if one is very healthy. That isn’t taking into account Masters that enjoy punishing their slaves to near death for the fun of it. Take for example, Will’s new friend Fritz, the Master that he serves beats him multiple times a day thus rendering him gaunt and aged despite being like 15 years old. Formerly a stocky and strong young man, he is on death’s door and Will fears they may force him to commit suicide via a euthanization plant the Masters use to keep new slave stock on hand. Will constantly remarks at how old and rough people look that are supposedly his same age.

I won’t spoil the whole plot, but Will and Fritz concoct a plan to gather information for the Freeman and hopefully escape – setting the stage for the second book. Armed with the information on how The Masters live, weaknesses, and their main “plan” they have for the Earth, it will be interesting to see where the story goes. After this book, there were no TV episodes made, so everything will be new ground from this point on. I personally enjoy the first book better than the second, but it helps set the stage for the final act in a great way. Now The Freemen basically know how to fight the invaders, it will just be a matter of getting a plan together. Here’s hoping it works out! I’m excited to see how everything ends. Join me again soon for my review of The Pool of Fire, the ending of the main trilogy for the series.

To read my review for part one, as well as reviews for the TV show, Click HERE

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