Category Archives: Post-Apocalyptic

Radiant (Towers Trilogy Book 1) by Karina Sumner-Smith.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

This book is a rare mixture of post apocalypse and anti-utopia with magic and even zombies thrown into the mix. It takes an exceptionally good plot and a strong protagonist to make such an mixture work, at least for me, but Karina Sumner-Smith hit the bulls eye with this novel.

 

This is a story about choices and consequences. It’s about growing up and realizing that sometimes the wellbeing of another person is more important than your own comfort. But more importantly, this story is about a true friendship between two very strong but very different girls. Xhea is a girl without magic in a world where everything and everyone lives and breathes magic, but she can see and talk to ghosts when normal people don’t even believe that they exist. Shai is one such ghost, but a ghost that is vibrating with magic when no ghost should be able to generate any.

 

There isn’t much backstory about the world Xhea and Shai live in, which actually makes sense, because Xhea has no way of knowing what brought in the cataclysm that left the extensive ruins she lives in. There are the Towers – beautiful floating semi-organic structures where those who were lucky enough to be born with strong magic live. They live in symbiosis with those Towers: they create and maintain them with their excess magic and in exchange the Towers give them a home and a place to belong. There is a complex web of politics and commercial treaties as well as non-aggression pacts between the Towers. Their citizens live sheltered lives of privilege compared to those who inhabit the Lower City.

 

Anyone who doesn’t possess enough magic to be useful to a Tower is cast down to try and carve a life out of the crumbling ruins of the ancient City that sprawls on the harsh and barren ground below the towers. But even here, on the ground, the level of your magic is important and the stronger spell casters are recruited by the communities living in the husks of several skyscrapers. There, much like in the distant Towers above, magic is the only currency. You can get a meal and a place to sleep for a few renai – plastic pieces infused with the caster’s magic. You can get more if you sign a servitude contract with the skyscraper that sheltered you.

 

Xhea doesn’t fit into this world no matter how much she would love to because she has no magic at all, not a glimmer, not a drop. To everybody else in this society she is worse than useless – she is a burden, an oddity that is to be ignored or eliminated. She manages to stay on this side of starvation by offering her services to those who want to get rid of their ghosts, or who want to talk to them. Business isn’t booming because not many people believe in ghosts, even if the more magically sensitive can sort of feel their presence next to them. Xhea is jaded and bitter and very much out for herself… until a well-dressed man from the Towers asks her to keep the ghost of his daughter for a few days in exchange for renai and food rations.

 

I loved Xhea. She comes across as rude and selfish at the beginning of the book, but, as I described earlier, she has every reason to be. She’d had to survive on her own for most of her life, and the only time she really cared for someone, that person ended up abandoning her. But she evolves. She changes. She goes above and beyond what’s asked of her to help Shai once she discovers what fate awaits the ghost.

 

Shai is a wonderful character as well. She could have been a typical damsel in distress – stuck and helpless, waiting for Xhea to save her, but the author managed to give her agency as well. Which is no small feat considering that she is already dead at the beginning of this story. Yes, Xhea saves Shai, but Shai saves Xhea as well. They are two broken children who had been hurt by the world around them but who manage to comfort each other and draw strength from one another even in the face of very unfavorable odds.

 

The book itself is very well written. Xhea has a distinctive voice that drew me into the story from the first page and kept me engaged and interested until the very last one. I liked this world and I wouldn’t mind discovering more about it in the next books. And I definitely want to know what happens to Xhea and Shai in the next book.

 

In other words, I will definitely recommend this book to my friends. It’s a must read.

Darwin’s Elevator by Jason M Hough

Stars: 4 out of 5.

I don’t remember where I heard about Darwin’s Elevator. I think it was in my “alsoboughts” on Amazon after I read Abyss Beyond Dreams by Peter F Hamilton, or maybe someone on Twitter mentioned it. Anyway, I’m very glad I and decided to give it a try. I discovered a very good author that I will definitely follow.

Over 20 years ago, a strange alien ship stopped above the little town of Darwin, Australia and shot a line down to Earth, just like a normal ship would cast an anchor. It became the Darwin Elevator that permanently ties the spaceship to the Earth. Nobody knows what this device was supposed to do, because nobody has ever seen the Builders, the aliens who brought the ship here, and the ship cannibalized itself to build the line, leaving only a hollowed husk.

The brightest minds flocked to Darwin to study both the Elevator and the ship. They built huge orbitals along the elevator line. The city  itself thrived, because all those people on orbit needed food, water and other goods to live. Life was good, economy was thriving… until five years ago an alien virus decimated 99% of the population on Earth. The SUBS virus turns people into mindless animals, ruled by one primal emotion, which is usually rage. The infection period is as small as a couple hours and there is no cure. But the Elevator produces an Aura that keeps the air in a 9 kilometer radius around it SUBS-free. So Darwin transforms from the outpost of scientific discovery and innovation, to the port of last resorts to all that’s left of humanity. That’s where the story of Darwin’s Elevator begins.

I loved the characters in this book. They are different, and live in different circumstances, which makes their points of view very different as well. So through their eyes, we get to see different facets of this complex situation.

Skyler and the ragtag crew of the Melville who explore the slowly crumbling world beyond the Aura and try salvage anything the inhabitants of Darwin and the orbitals might need. They are amongst the few who can still venture outside of the Aura, because they are immune to the SUBS virus. But that doesn’t make their expedition any less perilous, because the areas they explore are infested by subhumans who cannot be reasoned or pleaded with.

Tania Sharma, on the other hand, hadn’t set up foot on Earth in over 15 years. She is a scientist on one of the Orbitals who is determined to discover the reason behind the Elevator and the SUBS virus. She also becomes more and more convinced that the Builders are coming back and that everything is part of a bigger plan.

And there are plenty of interesting secondary characters as well. In fact, I found some of the secondary characters even MORE interesting than the main protagonists. “The Ghost” of Gateway station, anyone? I really hope to see more of them in the next books, and hopefully, they will have a bigger role to play.

The world Mr. Hough created is also very interesting, even though we don’t really get to explore it too much, apart from two expeditions outside of Darwin itself, but it has promise. The first book also doesn’t tell us much about the mysterious Builders and the Elevator, but then again, our protagonists are just as ignorant of this as we are. Hopefully, we will discover more about this in the future books. That was probably my main complaint about Darwin’s Elevator – a lot is hinted on, but not resolved or explained. But once again, it’s normal to have that when setting up an arc that encompasses several books. The plot and conflict of this particular book was successfully resolved by the end of the story with no real cliffhangers, so I’m happy.

My only other complaint and the reason I gave this book only 4 stars is that the antagonist was a bit too much of a caricature. I get the ruthless power-hungry warlord, even though that has been done and overdone before, but why make him a sadistic sexual pervert as well? That’s a trope upon a trope here. It makes him a bit too bad to be believable. I just really hope that if Russell Nightcliff continues to be the antagonist in the next books, the author adds a bit more depth to his character. Or better still, kill him off and introduce and original, not cookie-cut villain.

But those few gripes aside, I really loved Darwin’s Elevator, and I already picked up the next book in the series.