Book of the Year 2016 (see all)
What if, at the point when you most needed to escape your current situation, a portal could open that would lead you to a completely different place with its own set of rules? This is what happens to a group of survivors after a strange fire forces them into a disused Down Station, and from there into a strange new world full of deadly wonders.
Before this happens we meet our two protagonists, Mary and Dalip, who are two very different types of people. Mary is an ex-con with anger management issues, she has grown up within the foster care system and has chosen to work as a cleaner on the underground rather than being locked up in prison. Mary sees this choice as the closest thing to freedom. Dalip, on the other hand, is a good kid who has always done what is expected of him; currently training to be an engineer he has joined a maintenance crew fixing the tracks on the underground to set up the groundwork for all aspects of his chosen profession.
On this unfortunate night, Mary and Dalip’s lives are fundamentally changed. Whilst working on the underground the two teams of workers hear a loud noise, soon after encountering intense heat and fire which decimates the teams they were working with. When Mary and her band of survivors run into Dalip and Stanislav the seven of them have to decide whether to stay in the burning tunnels or step through the door which leads into the unknown.
As we learn more about the main characters it is enjoyable to see Dalip embrace the sense of freedom he now has away from his parents and the strict expectations they expect him to follow. This freedom allows Dalip to grow and learn to trust himself, but also allows him to stay true to what he believes in as a Sikh, even as that becomes more challenging further into the story. Mary, on the other hand, finally has all the freedom she has ever wanted, with no one to tell her what she can and cannot do. Now Mary has to work out how to live when there is no authority to fight and push against, she has to learn the importance of taking responsibility not only for herself but for other people.
Down can give you everything your heart desires, but for everything you gain you have to constantly be aware of the consequences. Mary, through a twist of fate, meets a mysterious man called Crows who begins to teach her the uses of magic and what the effects of this will mean to her. Mary learns that her anger can be channelled into something new and that she could truly become the person she sees herself as. Dalip has always been a pacifist who follows the rules, but in Down he is being shaped into a fighter, which will push him to his limits where he will need to decide between what he knows is right and what he knows will allow him to survive.
But in the words of C.S. Lewis, things become “curiouser and curiouser” as they begin to meet some of the other inhabitants of what they come to know as Down, and in turn begin to decipher its rules. The inhabitants of Down seem to be continually tested to prove themselves, but we are not told for whom or why. With the Geomancer, we see someone who uses the force of their will to make others do what she wants. The Geomancer even keeps a dragon to ensure her people can never leave her castle.
This is a very fast paced book, with intense moments of danger as well as being full of wonder. There are so many things to discover in Down not only geographically but historically. I really enjoyed reading about both Mary and Dalip’s journey. The main antagonists are delightful as they toy with the new survivors, but again are more fleshed out than the secondary characters that Mary and Dalip arrive with. Hopefully we will learn more about them in the next book, White City. This is a story about finding acceptance within yourself so that you can locate the strength to become who you need to be. Morden has written a book full of mysteries that are just waiting to be discovered. If asked, who doesn’t wish there was a land they could escape to, if only for a moment.
Review by Michelle Herbert
9/10 from 1 reviews
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