The House of the Scorpion

Nancy Farmer
The House of the Scorpion Cover

The House of the Scorpion


House of The Scorpion is Nancy Farmer's 2003 Locus Young Adult nominated novel. It is the story of Matt, who, when we are introduced to him, is an almost 6 year old child living in secret in the house of Celia a cook on a poppy plantation. Set sometime in the future, Matt is a clone living in a quasi-country called Opium. Opium is a border land held by drug lords between what is now the United States and Mexico. In this future, America is no longer a super power but just another struggling nation and Mexico, known as Aztlan, has become some kind of socialist empire. Matt is not meant to be. He is a clone, and was allowed to keep his mental functions. Clones are supposed to be made brain dead and are kept as living organ donors for the ultra-rich. Because El Patron was the wealthy leader of Opium, he chose to have Matt raised as a normal child.

When he is accidently discovered by the great to the fourth grandchildren of El Patron locked in Celia's house, Celia and Matt are moved to the big house. Matt is treated as less than human by most of the staff on El Patron's plantation. He was born inside a cow and is therefore considered a farm animal. Although El Patron wants Matt raised as a normal child living in the hostile and loveless compound makes this almost impossible. Only Celia, Tam Lin, the bodyguard El Patron assigns to Matt, and Maria, the youngest daughter of Senator Mendoza, a US senator love Matt and treat him as something deserving of affection and attention.

There two aspects of this novel that impressed me very much. The first is how Ms. Farmer is able to make so many characters who are not good people the recipients of my pity and/or sympathy. Matt's life is full of people with questionable character if just not out and out evil. Even Tam Lin, who clearly loves Matt with all his heart, is a person with a dark and sinister past. It must be hard for an author to allow a reader to feel sympathy for a bad character. Rosa and Tom come to mind. They both spend the majority of the novel being cruel to Matt, and yet when Matt discovers what happened to Rosa after El Patron finds out the way Matt was being treated was horrific and made both myself as the reader and the character Matt feel sympathy for her. Now Matt had not such feeling towards Tom, but I could not help but wonder how different his life would have been if he had people who actually loved him and taught him what was right, as Matt was so fortunate to have in Celia and Tam Lin. I strongly felt that the cruel way Tom treated Matt and Maria was because he was jealous of Matt and did not know and was never taught to give or receive love. Remember, his mother ran away from home and Tom was the result of that extramarital relationship. Felicia, his mother, was dragged back and forced to live with a man she did not care for. How could a child not grow up warped by this type of toxic environment?

The second thing that struck me towards the middle of the novel was that all the characters were Hispanic. How often do you get to read a science fiction novel with Hispanic characters? Only the bodyguard and maybe the other Farmer McGregor were on non-Hispanic heritage. This may have been a first to me, and is important to note.

The novel does not end with a cliffhanger per se, but it is obvious that Ms. Farmer intended another novel after this one. Since this novel ends with Matt at the age of 14 or so, I would be interested to see how he grows into a man now that the responsibilities of adulthood have been thrust upon his so suddenly. Nancy Farmer wrote The Lord of Opium in 2013 as a follow-up to this novel. I believe I may have to add her to my Worlds Without "2014 Roll Your Own I have to Read More of This Author Challenge".