Welcome, one and all, to another book review. Today, I’m looking at Rebecca Langham’s debut novel Beneath The Surface. By way of disclosure, I received a copy of the book from the author in return for an honest review.
Background: Australia’s Rebecca Langham is a self-confessed nerd, a Whovian, a Xenite, and a lover of coffee, comics and sci-fi. Want to know more? Check out my interview with the author here.
Beneath The Surface is Rebecca’s debut novel, and was released on January 15th 2018 by NineStar Press. Here, aliens known as Outsiders have landed on Earth. Rather than welcome our new arrivals though, humanity has decided that demonizing them and relegating them to monitored dwellings below ground is more humane. Lydia, the daughter of a powerful governor, takes up a position teaching Outsider children in one of the camps, but a meeting with an Outsider named Alessia shakes the foundations of the ‘truth’ she thought she knew.
The Good: Right off the bat, I want to say that BTS does a great job of creating a balance between two things: layers and clarity. Not only the characters but the world itself has clearly been meticulously thought out and comes across as very three-dimensional as a result. Despite this though, the book never crosses into the sometimes over-technical realms of hard sci-fi. This is an intelligent book presented as an accessible piece of literature.
As species, we are at times prone to certain behaviours; namely the apparent need to judge, and the unshaking ability to view ourselves as being at the top of the food chain. Of course, this doesn’t apply to all people or even all of the time, but it is often something that we see presented to us. Here, this has spilled over in the sense that humans are essentially detaining a race and confining them to a world away from the public eye. While not pushing things so far as extermination, the fact is that the society presented has reached a point where imprisonment on the grounds of birth is seen as a reasonable step. In this regard, the book does a good job of reminding us of how far things could go if we lose compassion and reason. The tale of a species’ fight for freedom and desire for coexistence even after all that has been done to them is thoroughly engrossing to read, and one that remains timely in a world where discrimination is still a regular occurrence.
The romance between Lydia and Alessia was a definite plus point for the book. Even if we put aside the LGBT+ representation it provides, it’s still a sweet relationship to watch grow. Yes, it may be a little quick for some readers, but you get a real sense of closeness between the characters, and that’s a real pleasure to read. Not a romance fan though? That’s fine too. While it does form part of the plot, the romance is secondary to the main story arc, so you won’t find it too intrusive. On top of that, it manages to never feels tacked on, which is not an easy thing to achieve.
I would also say that, despite the actions of humanity as a whole, there aren’t any true villains here. Misguided decisions, yes, but no outright detestable types. As a fan of grey areas, I really enjoyed this approach.
The Bad: There isn’t anything specific that I would list as a bad point for myself here. However, there are a few things to note that may affect other people’s enjoyment of the story. First is that the book is not heavy on action. If you prefer a military bent to your futuristic adventures, for example, this will no doubt disappoint. BTS is not a book about flashy space battles or alien hunting, after all. The same can be said if you want to see all loose ends tied up by the end of the book. While this is part of a series, and I don’t doubt that Rebecca will cover all points going forward, some may find the lack of closure on some points off-putting.
Final View: A futuristic book that deals with modern day discrimination politics in an accessible manner. Rebecca Langham has created a debut novel that doesn’t feel like a debut, but rather something more seasoned. If you’re fine with low levels of action and a leaning towards softer sci-fi, this is a great recommendation.
Final Score: 4.5 / 5