Summary – Due to rapid climate change in the early 21st century, five “hypercanes” are now roaming the surface of the Earth. In order to survive these continent-sized storms, lucky citizens were able to move into subterranean cities across the globe, while the not so lucky remained above ground where their only chance of survival was to outrun the storms.
By chance encounter, these two concurrent civilizations crossed and two young adults, Jansin, a general’s daughter and military cadet, and Will, an herbal doctor from the surface, are forced to work together for their own survival and for the survival of human morality.
*Spoilers within the review.*
This dystopian is unlike others that I’ve read recently because the “apocalypse” is still happening and began largely due to climate change instead of warring governments. As a result, it was far more globalized in my mind.
The subterranean society was compartmentalized like most dystopians with military and science making up the highest levels of society. The main character representing this society is Jansin, a general’s daughter in her senior year of military academy training. This novel is primarily Jansin’s journey.
Jansin is a “great thing in small packages” kinda character. She is portrayed as small, so much so, that many at the Academy believed she got there on her father’s merits, instead of her own. Regardless, Jansin is both a proficient fighter and overall exemplary student, scoring predominately at the top of her class. Jansin is headed home for Spring Break with her family and they’ve invited her boyfriend, Jake along. Her father breaks from his usual involvement away from home and has planned a trip to the surface for Jansin and Jake because of their upcoming graduation.
Though it’s implied that trips to the surface are rare, there are island chains available for wealthy citizens or scientific expeditions. They travel to the surface via “moles,” traveling compartments with a drill attached to the front of the vehicle. Throughout the novel, I was left wondering how these holes from below were filled in if they were drilling through bedrock each time as was indicated. Moles only depart from stations, so if there were these holes left, when a hurricane passed over the island site, it should have flooded the entire station below. The other form of transportation, mag-lev trains, made perfect sense and were quite enjoyable to read about.
I found it very interesting that Ross researched the psychological effects of life underground and created a realistic portrait of what adaptations humans might need if they were to live underground. Unlike other books I’ve read that included a subterranean culture, like City of Ember, Ross includes descriptions of different types of weather, as well as why it was needed. Jansin, who has lived underground her entire life up to this point, expresses the differences in day and night on the surface and even if she can’t identify why the surface is better, she understands there is a difference.
Her holiday site was attacked by what she initially thought were “toads,” a genetic anomaly that were believed to have hyperadapted because of the storms. These toads are humanoid amphibians mentally equivalent to primitive cavemen. Jansin has her first moral dilemma when she finds out that the raiders were not toads, but instead human survivors that were not affluent enough to be invited into her newly formed society, which she has earned a high place in, but instead left on the surface to die.
Her family and boyfriend made it back to the moles for evacuation, but witnessed Jansin being carried away alive, a prisoner. Jansin is held prisoner for several days aboard a ship that is traveling across the oceans. I enjoyed that Jansin uses her military training not only to fight strategically throughout the book, but to rationalize her surroundings and the actions of those around her. A vote takes place to either keep Jansin and integrate her into society or to throw her overboard. Jansin rationalizes that there is not cruelty in this decision, but instead realizes that if a person has nothing to offer but liability and hunger, what reason should she be kept?
They eventually make it to land and there’s a seamless shift from a wonderfully built sci-fi world to a lush subtropical survival story. Island of the Blue Dolphins was one of my favorite childhood books and it was because there’s a feeling of hope amid this “how do I survive” story. Ross does such a superb job of building up the feel of this part of the story that, as a reader, I felt just as disappointed when Jansin was retrieved and sent back underground.
The relationships that Ross creates between the characters are believable and relatable. I loved being able to feel the isolation, grief, loneliness, awkwardness through Jansin. The interactions felt natural. I attribute this not only to excellent writing, but a great concept of pacing as well. Although it took me longer to read this story than normal, I didn’t mind it, however sometimes the fast times went by too fast, so I’d go back and reread them to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
It was a pleasure to watch Jansin on the surface and her interactions and change in relationship with Will and also with Jake. I was a little disappointed in the “Will’s not really dead, he was stunned and taken prisoner/test subject.” Don’t get me wrong, I was glad to know that Will was alive. I guess it was a little predictable and that’s why I even mention it.
As a medical-nerd I was impressed with the descriptions of the scientific testing. Symptoms made sense and Ross explained it to the reader in a way that was easy to understand, but not clouded in terminology. Ross did this in all aspects of the book though, presented information in a logical way. “I know this because this.” For example, Jansin discusses remembering from a sabotage lesson where the cargo hold on the train is. She could stowaway in there without needing a ticket. Things just make sense.
After rescuing Will from genetic testing, and heading to Nu London, we find out the real reasons for “toads.” Again this makes much more sense than a species ability to mutate several eras of evolution in less than a century. I really enjoyed that there were two personal accounts of loss involving toads, one of fear from Will losing his family to one of a transformed loved one from Rafiq.
The banter and understanding that takes place between Jansin and Jake, particularly in the end is truly remarkable. It shows how people with two very different belief systems can still care for each other and about what happens to them.
I have to admit that I was constantly checking how many pages left and I was quite upset when I got to the very end of the book and it just stopped. I remember I had 4 pages left, and I was like there’s no way I’m going to get the ending I want out of this. I hated that I was correct. I then quickly looked to see if there was more, if this was a series, or if it was just the end. So far, I have only found that it was just the end. The ending wasn’t terrible, but I did feel robbed a bit. I spent all this time with Jansin and watching her change and grow, and they began walking on their next adventure without me.
There were also several open ends that were not tied up that I felt troubled by there being no after story.
- What about Jansin’s parents?
- What about the other test subjects?
- What about Rafiq and the information he has against society?
- What about Station 99 not sending a report?
- What about the toads?
It is for the ending that I rated this a 4.5/5 here. Though, on a Goodreads I rounded it up to a 5.