The Surface’s End, by David Joel Stevenson: A Review

The Surface's EndJonah, a young man in late adolescence, is responsible for providing his family with game, the major source of meat in their post-apocalyptic world. He’s found good hunting grounds at the edge of the dead zone, the desert known as the Deathlands, but even there the game is growing thin.

A wounded buck, fleeing the pain of Jonah’s arrow, leaves the shelter of the woods to run into the desert; Jonah, who cannot waste the kill, follows. Near where the buck finally falls, he finds a metal wheel…a wheel which is opens a door into another world – not a magical world: this is no rabbit-hole – but an underground city, peopled with the descendants of those who fled a ravaged Earth many generations earlier.

This is the premise of The Surface’s End, a young-adult dystopic science-fiction novel by David Joel Stevenson. I finished the book over two days: it’s short, at about 139 pages on my Kindle app, but it was also compulsively readable. Both the homesteading world of Jonah and his family and their fellow villagers, and the mole-rat like existence of the underground inhabitants were internally consistent and plausible, although both were slightly too one-dimensional, with no hint of strife or disagreement within the homesteaders and no positive aspects to the underground world.

SPOILERS AFTER THIS POINT!

Having the ‘wildlands’ adolescent discover the ‘city’, rather than the other way around, was a nice twist on the young-adult dystopic meme. The inevitable romance between Jonah and Talitha, the girl from underground, is handled sweetly, Jonah’s uncertainty and awkwardness particularly.

For the most part Stevenson’s writing flows smoothly (and occasionally brilliantly, as in the line, referring to the Deathlands: ‘He took his first step into the undiscovered lands.’, an echo of Hamlet describing death as ‘the undiscovered country.’). A minor niggle was that I found the tone and pacing of the narrative did not always reflect the tension and action of the story.

My only other niggle with the story was the scene in which Jonah and Talitha watch a digital feed of the deathbed confession of one of the original founders of the underground city. While it is important, a turning point in the story, the confession goes on too long, unbroken by the reactions and emotions of the two young people watching it.

All in all, though, I’m giving The Surface’s End four stars. It’s a worthy addition to the young adult dystopia genre (personally, I think it would make a good film), and it has enough originality to make it stand out from the crowd.

The author provided me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions here are mine alone.

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