Monday, October 17, 2016

A Powerful Story So Seldom Trumps Editing

Review: The City Below by Kevin George

Winner in the category Most words between a character's introduction in the Prologue and his inclusion in the story

I nominated this novel on the basis of a very strong excerpt from the prologue that opens the story. I wanted to read this book; if it had not been selected as a Kindle Scout offering, I would have purchased it anyway.

And while I wasn't disappointed, I wasn't thrilled, either. The intriguing characters introduced in the prologue simply vanish from the tale with the opening lines of Chapter One.

The reason I wasn't disappointed was that the story replacing what the prologue promised is a strong one, also filled with people I want to read about. Dystopian, post-apocalyptic societies are often set in a barren wilderness, or underground. The City Below satisfies both conditions; its tunnels and chambers were carved out below a vast, cold expanse of snow so long ago that only folk stories recount the existence of "white nothingess" and "the great blue above" beyond the underground city.

The next generation of the city's leaders were exposed to these "old wives' tales" through Artie Peters, the scion of the Fifth's leading family. Artie is a complex character, wanting to satisfy his father's stern work ethic, but drawn more to reading and study than the rest of the stoic, hard-working tunneling community of City Section Five. 

Emma Weller is the daughter of the founder Weller family, whose Section Three supports the scholars and engineers of the city. The last generation saw their section's, and the city's, history modified by the city's ruler to remove most references to the Weller family from the account of how the city was founded. 

Emma is less concerned with that and more focused on impressing her crush, Chad Upton, the son of the leaders of Section Two, which grows most of the vegetables and grains for the city. Even so, Chad is as misplaced as Artie; he yearns to build a vehicle he has engineered to explore the little he has learned about the vast space beyond the city's boundaries.

Then there is the ruling section, One, with the best access to the power provided by lava. One, where the principle product is guards and soldiers to suppress and force compliance from the other sections. One, whose ruling Jonas family has the ear of the Lord, styled "King" (and Your Illustriousness) and "Queen," and whose Prince Oliver, Olly to his young colleagues, is equally drawn to the adventure represented by the Great Beyond.

Section Four of the city below has no inhabitants (except, perhaps, ghosts). We learn that they died in the illness that still continues to plague the city. It is a disease that, curiously, has no symptoms until the day the afflicted person is taken into Quarantine by the guards from One. The diagnosis comes from "the Lord and Jonas," the irrefutable source of all policies and commands.

This novel, though powerful and engrossing, needed more editing. For one thing, it is needlessly long. Some topics are beaten to death. Others are repeated until the reader could recite them with the characters who voice them. Emma and Olly are two-dimensional at first, and Emma never gets much more complex. Oliver, however, gradually becomes a more-developed person, even if never as compellingly involuted as Artie or Chad. 

Strangely, the concept that gave such power to the prologue is given short shrift amongst all these words. The reader has almost forgotten it when it is reintroduced, much later. Yet the story is so persuasive, so compelling, that one forgives the technical problems. 

I was left with three massive cliff-hangers, and an immense desire to read Book 2 of the series. Alas, I will have to wait. 

Perhaps I will try George's previous novels, the 12-book Comet Clement series.