Series: The Dire Earth Cycle, #2
This edition: paperback, UK
Publisher: Titan Books
Published: 22nd August 2013
Where I got it: purchased new
Back cover synopsis:
Their automated ship planted a space elevator on Earth. Years later a virus ravaged the planet. Now the Builders have returned.
When the second elevator makes landfall in Belém, Brazil, a cluster of mysterious black towers appears at its base. Skyler Luiken and his crew soon learn that the alien structures inhibit the deadly virus and establish a new colony. But when he encounters a crashed Builder ship outside of the safe zone, Skyler makes a horrifying discovery: the infected are mutating…
As militants seize control of the fledgling colony in Belém, and power struggles above and below the Darwin Elevator threaten to destroy it, Dr Tania Sharma races to predict the next Builder event.
Will the last human outposts on Earth survive to see it?
First, a quick obligatory heads-up about this review – while I will do my best to avoid spoilers for this book, there may be some spoilers for the previous book, The Darwin Elevator. If you haven’t read it and don’t want to know important plot points, it may be best to go and do that before you read this.
For the rest of you, read on…
The second book in Jason M. Hough’s trilogy takes all of the beginning efforts at unity that we saw between the first book’s main characters – namely Skyler and Tania – and basically jettisons it. What we get are the results of the decisions that both have to make, not only on their own but at times, it seems, while at odds with each other. Skyler’s got a fledgling colony to deal with, and his occasionally hard-line experience as a soldier and scavenger to help him do it. Tania’s still much more of a scientist than a soldier, and she’s more at home as an Orbital, making choices that, while still difficult – and important – are clearly not so hands-on. With everything around both of them threatening to find a whole new level of hell to go to, the question of whether or not they can resolve these differences becomes more important than ever.
And that level of hell isn’t going to be polite and wait…
The scattering of important characters goes beyond this pair, as well as bringing several new faces on board. Samantha Rinn, the only surviving member of Skyler’s previous crew, is stuck in Darwin, forced by her circumstances to make a living using the skills she has as a scavenger for Grillo, a slum lord who finds himself in a position to take over Darwin by doing everything Russell Blackfield, the director of Nightcliff (and now an unhappy Orbital), failed to do – ie. make the place self-sustaining and considerably less hellish. The catch being that Grillo is apparently a Jacobite, one of the new ‘breed’ of religious zealots who view the Darwin Elevator as a sign from God that they may be saved. And I think we can all guess at how well that’s going to go for non-believers. Which, despite her apparent loyalty to her new boss, includes Sam…
So yes, Grillo is creepy. I never quite thought I’d see Blackfield as the lesser evil after the events in the last book, but although he is still the inept +1 Bag of Sleaze that we met previously, now he’s quite literally taken up the mantle of the departed Neil Platz in orbit – and he’s finding out that it’s nowhere near as much fun as he’d expected. For all of his character flaws and self-centred outlook, Blackfield did want to improve things. But once again, no one seems to be working together all that well. Well, except Grillo and his people on the ground, of course…
With all of this in mind, the turning point that this brings for Blackfield actually managed to surprise me at the time, though I suppose it shouldn’t have… And it will certainly be interesting to see what comes of that twist in the final book!
Now let’s visit the Belém colony – dubbed Camp Exodus, there’s that religious note again – for a bit. Here is where we see those new faces appear, and at this point I must admit I’ve got mixed feelings about one in particular. Ana, another immune that Skyler discovers living there and eventually becomes romantically involved with, is presented as pretty much everything Tania isn’t. She’s impulsive, if not a bit on the mercurial side, and makes rash decisions that seem to have Skyler torn between admiring her guts and being frustrated with her recklessness. Now, given that we only really get Skyler’s main-character perspective on her, I’m unsure if she’s really coming across to me the way Hough intended. Clearly she highlights some of the issues between Tania and Skyler – they think in entirely different ways, and this is getting in the way of what might have been a romantic entanglement left over from the first book as well as impeding any progress they make for the betterment of Camp Exodus. Whereas Skyler and Ana are clearly better suited to each other. Or are they?
Um. Make up your mind, dude.
I’m still unsure what to make of this subplot, if that’s what it is and not merely tossing Ana in as a demonstrative plot device – but to be fair, she does have a temper and there are hints that she disapproves of Tania. If something can be made of these factors to heighten drama/tension somewhere down the line, then fair enough. If not…
To continue being fair, this indecisiveness isn’t all on Skyler in terms of what frustrated me about it. Tania is damned good at what she does and is clearly more in her element on the Elevator stations than on the ground with the mercenary types, but there seemed to be more unhelpful dithering going on here than in the last book. The romantic subplot generally seems a bit out of place, or patched on, amid the much more impressive trappings of hard sci-fi action. Either way, I’d like to see it resolved so we can all move on…
Speaking of moving on, let’s!
Those impressive sci-fi elements I just mentioned? Wow. Really, wow. My jaw. On the floor.
The ante is certainly being upped here, and in particular our second, bigger and badder glimpse of the approaching Builder ship is everything I’d hoped for. The sheer scale of it all, both in terms of the size of that Builder ship and in deliciously tangible drama, certainly deserve the Epic tag. The final scenes, in particular, had me gripping this book tight. As cliffhangers go, Hough definitely delivers the goods. Thankfully I now have book three, The Plague Forge, right here in my gleefully grabby little hands, ready for diving into!
There are so many unanswered questions here. What is Grillo hoping to achieve in Darwin? What will come of what I hope is going to be an epic face-off between him and Blackfield? Which side will Sam ultimately choose?
And as for Skyler and Tania – *SPOILER REDACTED*
More. I wants it.