Review: Rising Tide by Rajan Khanna

Rising Tide

Book Two of the Ben Gold Series

by Rajan Khanna

Science Fiction | 268 Pages | Published by Pyr in 2015

| Rating |

This book was received from the publisher in return for an honest review

Whilst it was the synopsis for Rising Tide which first drew me to the Ben Gold series by Rajan Khanna, Falling Sky impressed me with its fast-paced and thrilling premise, its post-apocalyptic setting, and its cliffhanger ending. Following on from this exciting debut, I had high hopes that Rising Tide would continue in the same vein and, whilst I would have preferred some divergence from the pattern laid out in book one, it turned out to be a rather enjoyable sequel which has me waiting expectantly for the third.

Ben Gold sacrificed his ship in an effort to prevent pirates from attacking the hidden city of Tamoanchan. Now Malik, an old friend turned enemy, has captured Ben and Miranda—the scientist Ben loves. With Miranda held hostage, Ben has to do Malik’s dirty work. 

Miranda has plans of her own, though. She has developed a test for the virus that turned most of the population into little more than beasts called Ferals two generations ago. She needs Ben’s help to rescue a group of her colleagues to perfect the test—but first they must rescue themselves. 

When a terrible new disease starts spreading across Tamoanchan and people start dying, it seems there’s something more sinister afoot. Then an old enemy attacks. Can Ben fight off the invaders? And will it be in time to save anyone from the disease?

In Falling Sky we followed Ben and Miranda as they fled the doomed scientific colony of Apple Pi as it came under the lustful eye of the Gastown raiders. In his determination to retrieve his stolen airship, The Cherub, and to assist Miranda in finding a cure for the horrific virus responsible for turning humans into Ferals, Ben embarks on an adventure which takes him into the heart of the piratical state and to the one safe haven left for civilisation, Tamoanchan.

In an explosive cliffhanger ending, Ben, in his somewhat out of character determination to protect both Miranda’s research and innocent lives, sacrifices the remaining link to his past to bring down the raiders who would see Tamoanchan fall.

Following on directly from this cliffhanger ending, Rising Tide follows Ben and Miranda as they are pulled from the sea by an old friend turned enemy, Malik. Intent on getting one over on Ben, Mal takes Miranda hostage and sets Ben on a path that could very well mean his death. Determined to save Miranda, the one woman who makes him something of a good man and the one woman who might just make a difference to the world, Ben uses all his cunning to fulfil his quest and free them both from Mal’s clutches.

But there are more dangerous forces at work in the world than an old friend with a vendetta. A new virus is spreading across Tamoanchan, a virus which can only have sinister forces behind it. The only hope for the people of Tamoanchan is Miranda’s research; the fate of the world may just depend upon them. If they can escape.

Once again we are transported to a world of airships and sky towns, of ferals and raiders, and scientific researchers fighting for a cure. The setting is just as exciting and intriguing as the preceding novel but I feel that, once again, this post-apocalyptic world would have benefited from a third person perspective. The science behind the novel is also a little haphazard, but it is painted with a light enough brush throughout to moderate any major fears. The action throughout most of the novel also serves to alleviate some of these problems as it leaves little room to second guess such decisions.

Khanna writes in a dynamic style which continually moves the narrative forwards and lends to the air of excitement which is the mainstay of this novel. However, the sections of the novel from Miranda’s perspective, which were almost journal entries, threw me a little and felt a little shoehorned into the storyline. They do go some way into developing Miranda’s character, uncovering Mal’s intentions, and describing events which would otherwise be lost with Ben’s absence, but otherwise felt a little out of place after the single perspective introduced in Falling Sky.

Ben Gold sets a cracking pace during his narrative, the continued flashbacks to his past adding depth and interest to his character whilst highlighting his personal growth. Yet the same problem remains from the first novel – I just don’t connect with him. Whilst the storyline in itself is entertaining, my continued issues with Ben along with my slight disinterest in Miranda, made this a slightly less enjoyable read than the first novel, despite having a storyline which in itself was on par with Falling Sky.

However, the return of Rosie and Diego to the storyline, along with Claudia, goes some way to mitigate whatever issues I have with the protagonists. There is something of a spark in these gun-toting and sharp-shooting supplementary characters which can’t help but entice you into the storyline, and their roles frequently fill the action-packed and exciting scenes which carry the narrative along and make this on whole, a rather enjoyable read.

Rising Tide certainly continues in the same vein as Falling Sky and, despite any problems I may have had with the characters, was more than enjoyable enough to have me looking out for the third novel in this series. If you’re looking for a short and sharp read which transports you back into this post-apocalyptic landscape of Ferals, raiders and airships, then Rising Tide is sure to bring a little excitement into your world. 

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Review: Falling Sky by Rajan Khanna

The 2016 Sci-Fi Experience

Falling Sky

Book One of the Ben Gold Series

by Rajan Khanna

Science Fiction | 252 Pages | Published by Pyr in 2014

| Rating |

This book was received from the publisher in return for an honest review

Falling Sky first came to my attention after reading the synopsis for its sequel, Rising Tide. With its backdrop of a post-apocalyptic Earth teaming with terrifying Ferals, glorious airships and cities in the sky, this is a novel which had me hooked with anticipation alone. And it didn’t disappoint. Falling Sky is a new and exciting interpretation of the post-apocalyptic zombie genre which, though short, remains a fast-paced and action filled debut whose climactic conclusion left me reaching for the next book.

Ben Gold lives in dangerous times. Two generations ago, a virulent disease turned the population of most of North America into little more than beasts called Ferals. Some of those who survived took to the air, scratching out a living on airships and dirigibles soaring over the dangerous ground.

Ben, a lone wolf, has reluctantly agreed to use his skills and his airship to help an idealist scientist, Miranda, on her search for a cure. Protecting her from Ferals is dangerous enough but when power-mad raiders run rampant, Ben finds himself in the most dangerous place of all—the ground. 

Ben’s journey leads him to Gastown, a city in the air recently conquered by belligerent and expansionist pirates. Old friends and new enemies are drawn into a struggle that quickly becomes a fight for the fate of the world. Ben must decide to focus on his own survival or risk it all on a desperate chance for a better future.

Falling Sky follows the story of Ben Gold – a gun-wielding, Feral-fighting airship captain – who finds himself the protector of a colony of scientists, and Miranda in particular, at the small research town of Apple Pi. Except this is a world of vicious Ferals who roam the earth and barbarian raiders and hostile townships who patrol the skies. Ferals kill indiscriminately and the bandit states revel in pillage and plunder, actively seeking the destruction of others. Once under their radar, no one is safe… and for Apple Pi time is running out. Ben and Miranda must set off on an adventure which takes them into the heart of the piratical state as Miranda attempts to continue her search for a cure to the Feral plague and Ben does all he can to help Miranda, and himself, survive.

Khanna has creating a terrifying and enthralling world where the beauty and wonder of life aboard airships and on sky towns is contrasted with the destruction of the human race and the unstoppable spread of the virus which turns humans into Ferals. Thematically I loved this book, and in particular the wonderful depiction of the warmongering bandit states -Valhalla and Gastown. Khanna has fashioned a world where airships and, quite literal, townships vie for supremacy over a ruined and overrun world; where life on the ground is undeniably dangerous, and where carving out an honest existence in a world of cruelty and selfish greed is an incredible hardship.

It is through the voice of the narrator, Ben Gold, that a true sense of this hardship is made apparent. Ben is an interesting protagonist whose rough and ready approach makes for a fast-paced and exciting read, his life and history unfolding unobtrusively as the narrative progresses. However, whilst enjoyable throughout, Ben’s voice failed to captivate me as much as it ought to and I became keenly aware that I would prefer to read this book in a third person perspective, in order to convey more of the post-apocalyptic landscape.

This, as always, is subjective and whilst Ben might not be the man for me, he played an excellent counterpoise to the scientists of the novel who are almost in a world of their own with their singular, and sometimes dangerous, determination. Khanna also fields a host of other characters full of charm, wit and gun-toting reflexes; in particular Diego and Rosie, who convey a sense of strength and solidity in a fragile world, and Claudia, who all became firm favourites over the course of the novel.

Falling Sky is a thoroughly exciting read set in a brilliantly realised world, whose climactic conclusion had me reaching for the next book. Khanna has succeeded in creating a dynamic tale which is constantly moving forward (even when looking backwards) and practically brims with action on every page. This is a novel which surprised me with its world and storyline, left me a little wanting where the protagonist was concerned, yet surprised me again with its cliffhanger ending. In short – a very enjoyable read.

If you want to read a novel about a terrifying post-apocalyptic world where lives are carved from the ruined remnants of society, and life is truly experienced in the airships of the sky, then this might just be the read for you. Whilst by no means perfect, Falling Sky remains an exciting and enjoyable read, has satisfied my zombie cravings, and has introduced an author who I certainly intend to read far more of in the near future.

Bookish Beats Suggestion

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Review: Down Station by Simon Morden

Sci Fi Month 2015

Down Station

by Simon Morden

Science Fantasy | 323 Pages | To be published by Gollancz in February 2016

| Rating |

This book was received from Netgalley in return for an honest review

Initially I requested this book because.. well.. it has a pretty cover! However, after attending the Gollancz Book Festival in Manchester and seeing a very funny Simon Morden on the panel, I couldn’t wait to crack this book open. Down Station is a novel about fresh starts and new beginnings, about bravery and loyalty and the nightmares that haunt us, and the determination of the human spirit. This is a sweeping science fantasy which harks back to genre traditions and takes the reader into a world of strange magics and even stranger creatures.

A small group of commuters and tube workers witness a fiery apocalypse overtaking London. They make their escape through a service tunnel. Reaching a door they step through…and find themselves on a wild shore backed by cliffs and rolling grassland. The way back is blocked. Making their way inland they meet a man dressed in a wolf’s cloak and with wolves by his side. He speaks English and has heard of a place called London – other people have arrived here down the ages – all escaping from a London that is burning. None of them have returned. Except one – who travels between the two worlds at will. The group begin a quest to find this one survivor; the one who holds the key to their return and to the safety of London.

And as they travel this world, meeting mythical and legendary creatures, split between North and South by a mighty river and bordered by The White City and The Crystal Palace they realise they are in a world defined by all the London’s there have ever been.

Reminiscent of Michael Moorcock and Julian May this is a grand and sweeping science fantasy built on the ideas, the legends, the memories of every London there has ever been.

Down Station follows the tale of a group of multi-ethnic Londoners who find themselves transported to another world – Down – following a fiery encounter whilst working on the London Underground. For some, Down provides a chance for them to escape their pasts, escape the expectations of others and give them a new start in a land where anything may just be possible. For others, Down is hell and they will do anything they can to get back to London and the world that they know.

From the opening pages, Down Station sets a pace which is maintained throughout the novel. With barely a dull moment and an open ending which seems to yell sequel, this novel is a refreshing  and somewhat whimsical read. However, there were elements of the narrative which could have used a little more depth and explanation. The overriding danger which quite literally exploded into the opening chapters dissipated upon our company’s arrival in Down. Though there were plenty of dangers present in this strange new world – eaten by a monstrous fish? Sure! Carried off by a hungry eagle? Why not! – the narrative lacked the urgency and desperation that perhaps it should have had.

The world of Down, however, is certainly a captivating place which is portrayed in beautiful short passages of description. The similarities to an Earth of the past are quite apparent and though strange beasts and plants were hinted at if not described outright, I would have preferred Down’s otherworldliness to have been more apparent. Having said that, this is a world which is accessed by a portal from our own so perhaps a sense of familiarity was the intention all along.

The magic system Morden has created certainly makes up for any similarities to our own world but, again, the danger could have been turned up a notch. This is a world where, if you have the ability, anything is possible – you can be whoever you want to be, do whatever you want to do – but not without paying a price. Either you take control of your powers or they will certainly take control of you. The times when our protagonists were confronted by this strange magic certainly made for interesting reading.

The most intriguing aspect of this magic system, however, has to be its worldbuilding element. This is a world powered by magic, a magic which runs along lines of power which connect one portal to another. It is at these intersections that Down starts to respond to its inhabitants and the magic truly happens. Castles, fortresses, towns and villages spring up in righteous glory from the earth or fall into rot and ruin until they disappear into decay. Simon Morden has created something that sits well in the fantasy genre but has a distinctly unique feel to it which I only hope will continue to grow in future novels.

Down Station also has a whole host of characters to sink our teeth into too (if you so wish). Our main protagonists are Mary and Dalip, who are both incredibly likeable but in completely contrasting ways. Even Mary’s verbal diarrhoea when it came to f-bombing only serves to make her a more believable character.  Morden manages to depict their personalities incredibly well by including their thoughts and beliefs throughout the narrative and both these characters have something very distinctive and unique in their portrayal.

The secondary characters could perhaps have done with a little more attention as, though they featured heavily throughout the novel, it felt like we never got to learn much about their lives or motivations. Their snapshot depictions were enough to keep me reading but these intriguing hints only left me wanting more! The villains of the piece also suffered from the ‘lack of danger’ present in parts of the plot and, even though they were ruthless and dangerous, they almost felt devoid of both ruthlessness and danger. This, however, did not stop it from being an absorbing read. All the right elements were there, I just wanted more!

Down Station is a fun and interesting read which I zipped through in no time at all! Though there were elements of the novel which I felt could have used a bit more depth, this didn’t spoil my enjoyment and I’m sure fans of both science fiction and fantasy will find enough to keep them happy! I’ll certainly be on the look out for more books by Simon Morden… and perhaps next time I can get one I can get signed!

What are your feelings for science fantasy? Do you enjoy the crossover between genres?

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