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Spill Zone: The Broken Vow

“The warheads all exploded, scattering dust on the wind. Since then, our Zone has been silent” — Don Jae, Spill Zone: The Broken Vow, p. 191.

Creator(s) Scott Westerfeld (author),  Alex Puvilland (illustrator)
PublisherFirst Second
Publication Date2018
GenreDystopian, Science Fiction, Fiction
Environmental Themes and Issues Mutated Organisms, Nuclear Disaster, Hostile Environment, Habitat Destruction
Protagonist’s Identity Addison: White teenage girl
Protagonist’s Level of Environmental AgencyLevel 3: Moderate, Plot-Driven Environmental Agency
Target Audience Young Adult
Settings Poughkeepsie, New York
Cover of Spill Zone: The Broken Vow

Environmental Themes

It has been three years since a mysterious event known as the Spill devastated the city of Poughkeepsie, New York. Resembling a supernatural Chernobyl, the catastrophe killed the city’s human residents, turning them into floating “meat puppets,” and transformed the surviving animals and plants into bizarre and frightening mutations. This sequel picks up immediately following the events of Spill Zone as protagonist Addison delivers the radioactive dust she retrieved from the Zone to her employer, Tan’ea, in exchange for one million dollars. Tan’ea delivers the dust to the North Korean government, who have been researching their own Spill Zone. Don Jae, a North Korean operative who gained fantastical powers after being exposed to the North Korea Spill, tastes the dust, which reveals the origins of the Spill to him: another, broken world that spilled some of its contents into Poughkeepsie and North Korea.

Addison and Don Jae watch from a distance as strange activity disturbs the Spill Zone in The Broken Vow.

Back home, Addison burns all of her remaining photographs from the Spill Zone, determined to use the money to take her younger sister, Lexa, to start over in a new place. She also throws Lexa’s strangely animated doll, Vespertine, into the fire. Instead of simply burning, however, the doll releases the spirit that has resided it since the night of the Spill. The spirit Vespertine possesses Lexa’s body. As Addison tries to figure out how to get Vespertine out of Lexa’s body, her friend Wiley brings Don Jae to meet her. Don Jae asks Addison to return to the Spill Zone with him, saying, “I must see what is changing inside your Zone… to understand what your sister is” (Westerfeld 88).

Don Jae recounts how he received strange powers, including the ability to intimidate fearsome mutated animals, after he stumbled into a radioactive blast crater during the North Korea Spill in The Broken Vow.

The two characters travel back to the Spill Zone, where they discover that the dust enables them to see strange new creatures. They also encounter a monstrous wolf-like animal, the Sovereign, who has traveled from another world, the Cradle, in pursuit of his betrothed, Vespertine. Despite Vespertine’s wishes, the Sovereign wants to marry her so that they can halt a civil war between their people. The Sovereign leads the Zone’s other mutated inhabitants through the border fence and out into the normal world. Addison and Don Jae return to the combined Lexa and Vespertine. Lexa reveals that she invited Vespertine into their world to escape a marriage to the Sovereign, but Vespertine inadvertently created the Spill when she moved between the worlds, destroying the city. The pack of Spill Zone beasts arrive and capture Vespertine and Lexa.

Addison comforts Lexa after missiles destroy the Spill Zone and expel Vespertine from the young girl’s body in The Broken Vow.

As the Sovereign confronts Vespertine, the United States military arrives and shoots missiles at the Spill Zone creatures in an attempt to halt their invasion of the normal world. Addison uses her newfound powers to redirect the missiles into the Poughkeepsie nuclear power plant, the toxic heart of the Spill Zone. The missiles destroy the power plant and the effects of the Spill Zone immediately vanish: the mutated animals and Vespertine vanish, and the “meat puppets” crash to the ground, no longer animated. “It’s our world again,” Addison declares. In the final chapter, the comic skips ahead to three years later. Addison and Lexa now lives on a tropical island, and Addison has retained both her ability to fly and her love of photography. Together, she and Don Jae use their powers to advocate for better conditions in North Korea.

Though the comic attributes the Spill to a fantastical mingling of Earth and the Cradle, the illustrations draw many parallels between the Spill and nuclear disasters. The mutated creatures found in the Spill Zone serve as exaggerated versions of mutated organisms that have been exposed to high quantities of radiation during disasters like the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Additionally, the Poughkeepsie functions as the heart of the Spill Zone, and the affects of the catastrophe only vanish after the destruction of the plant. The comic does not explicitly condemn nuclear power, but these parallels do point to the dangers of this form of technology, as well as the devastating effects that war inflicts on the environment.

Posted in Dystopia, Fiction, Science Fiction

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