Jonah Whitfield lives in a small farming village near the Deathlands, a strange desert in the middle of a lush and green landscape. The inhabitants of his village live a pastoral life, one free of excess, electronics and sloth. Hard work is valued, family life is cherished and citizens strive for a strong sense of community. But the land holds many secrets. Rusting mechanical machines litter a nearby junkyard. Tools and homes are crafted from the remnants of objects whose original uses are lost to time. One day, while hunting, Jonah explores the forbidden Deathlands area only to find a passageway to a hidden complex, a series of tunnels filled with glowing lights, working machines…and the voices of other humans. Here he finds questions that may very shake his view of the world.
Thus begins David Joel Stevenson’s Young Adult (YA) Dystopian novel, The Surface’s End. I have to say this was a welcoming and pleasant surprise, if not a bit formulaic.
The YA and Dystopian novel market is booming, helped in part from the success of The Hunger Games, and the self-published sensation Wool. It seems we all can’t quite get enough of a futuristic world filled with crushing authority, bleak lives and young protagonists that offer a glimmer of hope for a better future. I know I can’t. I practically thrive on it.
Stevenson turns the tables on the basic dystopian formula by starting off in a quite comfortable place where residents have found a bit peace after what appears to have been a time of violence many generations past. History is forgotten, but not altogether gone. The shells of the former world litter the landscape, raising questions for those brave enough to ask. Only after Jonah discovers a hidden world do we begin to see a society living in a questionable future, a future filled with laziness, lack of values and systematic separation of classes. A future that looks surprisingly like our own present.
The author did a fine job of building the mystery in the first half of the novel. Unfortunately, the second half fell into the trap of revealing too much information too fast. While I have no doubt Stevenson has more to tell of what lies beneath the Deathlands, revelations seemed to come faster than expected. The fun is in the build-up! I like my dystopian stories dripping with dispair and a protagonist that struggles with a world that makes little sense. There is also a not-so-subtle message that Stevenson is trying to convey to the reader – a philosophy of hard work, good values and unquestioning loyalty to family and community. But here too, the delivery is a blunt object over the head. Stevenson needs to trust the reader to make their own conclusions to the message he’s sending.
That aside, this was a quick, enjoyable page-turning read. The author provided me with a review copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review. My foray into the world of first time authors and self-published novels from up-and-coming independent writers, continues to be a welcomed experience. Finding a small jewel like this in the stacks of requests is what makes my hobby of book reviewing so enjoyable.
The Surface’s End was engaging, creative and hopping with energy. The author has a clean and tight writing style that is effective and affective. Readers will eagerly want to learn what comes next. I know I do. But let the mystery build a little slower next time, ok?
Three Stars out of Five. A good, enjoyable novel that you will not be disappointed in reading.