Oooooh, exciting times!! Today I’m bringing you my first Top Book of 2016 pick in adult fiction and it is an unexpectedly exciting, original, yet familiar read. We received Down Station from Hachette Australia for review, not quite remembering why it was we requested it in the first place, and were enormously surprised by how much we loved everything about it: from the characters, the settings, the genre-switching, the multiple points of view….but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
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.
Despite this book having lots of elements that I just can’t go past in a book – London, train stations, portals, time travel, finding oneself unexpectedly in a hitherto unknown place – when I received it in the mail and read the blurb on the back, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I had requested it (apart from that gorgeous cover, obviously. We all know I’m a sucker for an attractive bookish face). It seemed like this was going to be a dystopian, which I’ve been steering away from for mental health reasons, and after I read the first few chapters, I was even more worried that this was a dystopian dressed in a pretty jacket. For the opening of the book, apart from introducing our main characters, presents a frankly terrifying escape from a fiery, possibly world-destroying inferno.
Things settle down a bit, however, when our protagonists find their way out of the fire and into Down, a world that seems to exist purely for the purpose of escape. As the seven survivors try to decide what they will do in this new, safe-for-the-moment environment, they discover sea serpents, a man tended by wolves and the existence of a shady geomancer, who may or may not know the way back to London. Which itself may or may not now exist.
The book unfolds into a full-on other world story, as events cause the momentary forgetting of return to London, and lives hang in the balance. The story alternates between Dalip – a young sikh engineering student struggling to assert himself as an individual outside the expectations of his family – and Mary – a young woman learning to wield the power of personal choice after a traumatic and violent childhood. While there are plenty of fantasy elements speckled throughout the plot, the author never loses sight of the inner struggles of his characters, and I think that is what makes the book stand out for me as a Top Book pick. Despite the craziness going on around them and the potential loss of all that they once knew, the group must try and make the “right” decisions, in a world where morality is clearly relative.
I am so pleased that this is a series opener. Normally, at this stage of my reviewing life, I prefer standalones, but the surface has only just been scratched in Down Station and I am excited to see how Dalip, Mary and the rest manage themselves given all the changes that have happened for them over the course of this book.
If you are into adult fantasy fiction, and enjoy stories with excellent character development, then you really should pick up Down Station, not least because I want someone to discuss it with!!
Until next time,