City of Savages by Lee Kelly

published on February 3rd 2015 by Saga Press
young adult | dystopia | romance | thriller

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It’s been nearly two decades since the Red Allies first attacked New York, and Manhattan is now a prisoner-of-war camp, ruled by Rolladin and her brutal, impulsive warlords. For Skyler Miller, Manhattan is a cage that keeps her from the world beyond the city’s borders. But for Sky’s younger sister, Phee, the POW camp is a dangerous playground of possibility, and the only home she’d ever want.

When Sky and Phee discover their mom’s hidden journal from the war’s outbreak, they both realize there’s more to Manhattan—and their mother—than either of them had ever imagined. And after a group of strangers arrives at the annual POW census, the girls begin to uncover the island’s long-kept secrets. The strangers hail from England, a country supposedly destroyed by the Red Allies, and Rolladin’s lies about Manhattan’s captivity begin to unravel.

Hungry for the truth, the sisters set a series of events in motion that end in the death of one of Rolladin’s guards. Now they’re outlaws, forced to join the strange Englishmen on an escape mission through Manhattan. Their flight takes them into subways haunted by cannibals, into the arms of a sadistic cult in the city’s Meatpacking District and, through the pages of their mom’s old journal, into the island’s dark and shocking past.


With dystopians published recently, there seems to be a trend in that they all have too many action sequences and not nearly enough substance. City of Savages, however, much to my excitement, doesn’t fall into this cliche. Rather, instead of focusing on the mindless action scenes, Lee Kelly instead makes the book a psychological character analysis, something that I don’t think I’ve ever seen thoroughly explored in a YA dystopian before.

Twenty years ago, the Red Allies attacked New York and captured Manhattan to use as a prisoner of war camp. When siblings Sky and Phee, two prisoners, discover their mother’s diary pre-war diary, they soon learn that not everything in their safe haven of the world is as idyllic as it may appear.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the world-building was the strongsuit here. Lee Kelly sets her story two decades after World War Three in which America has been defeated and Manhattan is now under control by their enemies, the Red Allies. Despite this being a constant theme throughout the story, we never learn much more about the war than those few facts, and I wanted to learn more.

  • What was the war being fought over?
  • What countries did Red Allies consist of? What countries were allied with America?
  • How did the Red Allies manage to capture Manhattan?
  • In what ways was this war different from a modern-day war?


The story is told in dual perspective between sisters Sky and Phee. Despite sharing some of the same DNA, these two couldn’t be more different. Sky is the older sister – quiet, reserved, and intelligent; and would like nothing more than to leave their POW camp. In contrast, Phee is impulsive and fierce, and to her the POW camp is the only home she’s ever wanted.

Despite their differences, the sisters must come together if they want to discover the truth about their city. The relationship between Sky and Phee was definitely one of the story’s highlights. There is nothing better than to see such a raw, honest portrayal of being siblings, and Lee Kelly nailed it.

While definitely more psychological and less action-packed than your typical dystopian novel, City of Savages is a unique and original read in a relatively overcrowded genre. While the world-building is not necessarily up to par with what I had hoped it would be, the wonderful sibling relationships between the two protagonists substitutes for that.

pagebreak Skulls 4

3.5 skullspagebreak

Have you ever read a book where you felt the romance overpowered the plot?

About Zoe

Zoe is a critical reviewer. When she’s not reviewing, you can find her performing in plays / musicals, doing gymnastics, or designing websites.

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14 thoughts on “Review: City of Savages by Lee Kelly

  1. Congrats Zoe! I haven’t found a good dystopian to read lately (other than Prodigy of course) but I think I’ll be taking a break from Dystopian for now. But I can’t wait to try this one when I get the chance. :D


  2. I’ve heard mixed reviews about this book, but I do want to check it out for myself. It does sounds like a good dystopian novel overall – thank you for sharing ! xD Fantastic review.


  3. Though I’m not really actively looking for dystopians and I tend to steer clear of disaster stories set in New York, there’s something about this that intrigues me. If I could get past the worldbuilding questions, I might enjoy the sister relationship and the psychological elements.
    Jen @ YA Romantics


  4. Yes, plenty of times and I’m not a huge fan of it. I don’t mind romance in a boon but I hate it when it gives you a promise of one thing and just basically get 10% of that and 90% romance! I have my romance genre for that! I’m glad that this didn’t focus on the action too much and I like the idea of it focusing in the psychological. Dystopias are so depressing, it will def mess people up! Is this a standalone? Cause if if it’s a series maybe the next book will develop the world building more. Anyway, I’m glad this book worked out for you Zoe! :)


  5. A lot of dystopias tend to focus more on the romance than the story these days, but this one looks quite interesting. I can’t wait to try it!


  6. TOTALLY agree with your assessment here! I just finished it the other day, and I am with you- the ONE thing that will keep it from being a complete home run for me was the world building. I loved the psychological aspect, and the relationship not only between Phee and Sky, but each of them and their mother too. I really thought that was incredibly well done, and I loved the book, but I do have those pesky world building questions still in my head! Great review :)


  7. WAIT. IS THIS A UNIQUE DYSTOPIAN?!! WOW. CONSIDER ME INTRIGUED. hehe. I have read so many dystopians that it feels like nothing will EVER surprise me again. Which makes me sad. It used to be my favourite genre. I waaaant to try this now.


  8. Great review! I’d passed this one over, thinking it sounded too much like every other dystopian I’ve encountered. You changed my mind with your first paragraph. I love that Kelly decided to take a more person-centered look at the genre; it’s something that I, too, feel the absence of in so many dystopians. The worldbuilding will likely irk me, but I’m still very intrigued. (Please let’s not have the Red Allies be ANOTHER Communist look-a-like, yeah? I’d love a dystopian in which Sweden suddenly became a crazy dictatorship.)

    Sarcasm & Lemons


  9. The psychological part definitely piques my interest, even though there seems to be a gap in the world building. It’s difficult these days to make a dystopian stand out, and it sounds like the psych part did it here! Great review Zoe <3


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