The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“In the mid-23rd century, Darwin, Australia, stands as the last human city on Earth. The world has succumbed to an alien plague, with most of the population transformed into mindless, savage creatures. The planet’s refugees flock to Darwin, where a space elevator—created by the architects of this apocalypse, the Builders—emits a plague-suppressing aura.
Skyler Luiken has a rare immunity to the plague. Backed by an international crew of fellow “immunes,” he leads missions into the dangerous wasteland beyond the aura’s edge to find the resources Darwin needs to stave off collapse. But when the Elevator starts to malfunction, Skyler is tapped—along with the brilliant scientist, Dr. Tania Sharma—to solve the mystery of the failing alien technology and save the ragged remnants of humanity.”
Hough is one of those authors who has really come out of nowhere and blown me away. I had seen a little about this book, but what caught my attention was when author Kevin Hearne gave this book a rave recommendation. You’ve probably noticed that I tend to read more fantasy than science fiction, and although I like sci-fi, I don’t pick it up as often as fantasy. Boy, am I glad I grabbed this one, because I had the same reaction to The Darwin Elevator that I had to Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyira Revelations… and in case you didn’t know, I really liked Sullivan’s books.
First of all, the characters are interesting and well-rounded. You can feel Skyler’s frustration at the missions he has to lead and Tania’s strength of purpose. You come to know all of these people well enough that when something happens to them, you really feel it as a blow. There are betrayals and double-crosses, disappointments and triumphs, and Hough’s characters carry all of this emotional weight with flair and style. There are even a couple of characters that you’re going to love to hate.
The setting and backstory are also well-crafted. While readers won’t get every secret about the mysterious Builders, the author does let out some of the answers that you’ll be itching for once you start this book. There’s plenty of information woven into the narrative concerning how the world got to be the way it is, and Skyler’s missions give you a chance to glimpse what’s left of our civilization outside of Darwin’s safe zone. Heading off-world, even the stations along the Elevator are fleshed out and have their own character.
What really sold this book for me is the story. Hough doesn’t skimp on the action, offering up plenty of gunplay and encounters with crazed people infected by the alien virus. He also draws on those strong characters I mentioned to pull off some great plot twists. This isn’t a book where page time equals immunity, so you should prepare for some nasty things to happen to characters that you’re probably going to come to like. Hough keeps the tension ratcheted up high through most of the book, with a few pauses to catch your breath before the action picks up again.
Despite this novel’s length—nearly 500 pages—it’s not one that you can easily put down, so get ready to stay up late reading. I can’t really do justice to this book without devolving into a geekgasm and screaming “Go pick up this book now!” The Darwin Elevator is some of the finest science fiction to come along in a long time, and I can’t wait to get the sequels.
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on July 30, 2013.