Note: Review copy supplied by the author
Title: Break The Surface [Outsider Project #2]
Author: Rebecca Langham
Publisher: NineStar Press
Genre: Sci-Fi / Lesfic
Length: 374 pages
Alessia is an Outsider—a member of the not-quite-human community that has recently been released from their underground prison. Shortly after their liberation, Alessia is given an ultimatum: obey all the United Earth Alliance’s demands, or her mother will forever remain a hostage—a mother she’d believed dead for fifteen years. Reluctantly, she agrees, though she has no idea what those demands may be, or how she will balance her obligations to the UEA with her responsibilities to her people and her family.
As the UEA tightens its grip on humans and Outsiders alike, it becomes clear that meaningful social change will not be possible without a revolution. Alessia and her peers embark on a mission to discover just how far the government is willing to go to maintain their monopoly on power.
What Alessia and her comrades discover, however, goes much deeper than they’d ever anticipated. Who are the Outsiders, really? What secrets of their destiny lay hidden within a top-secret space station? And why are the Outsiders linked to an emerging disease the UEA seems desperate to keep secret? As they delve deeper, it isn’t only Alessia’s identity that will be called into question, but the fate of the entire planet.
When review book one in the series, Beneath The Surface, I said that Rebecca had ‘created a debut novel that didn’t feel like a debut novel, but rather something more refined’. Here, the second book actually shows improvement in this area. It maintains the same feel as the first book, of course, but the writing feels tighter, and the conversations more natural. That’s not to say that those in the first book felt unnatural at all, mind you, more that they take a step forward here.
The story is an excellent follow-up to that of Beneath The Surface too. All those elements that made the original book so fun – the mix of intrigue, a lovable cast, and some gentle romance that doesn’t overshadow the sci-fi elements – are all still here in force. At the same time though, Rebecca broadens the tools being sued to tell the story a little. For one, there’s a little more action this time. It still fits within the world, and bar a super exciting climactic run, it doesn’t take the full focus for long, but it’s a welcome addition.
Tech talk too is taken up a little, with the neural implant concept explored a little more. What I liked about this is that it still avoided dropping into hard sci-fi territory. Don’t get wrong, I like some hard sci-fi. But a complete shift here, even for one scene, would have felt ‘off’ when placed next to the first book. Instead, Rebecca gives us a little detail on how the implants are placed within the body and then focuses on the sometimes disorienting effects of having the equivalent of a near-constant internet stream in front of you. By sticking with the character’s emotions, Rebecca maintains a series consistency that is very welcome.
And when it comes to the characters, I cannot understate how fun they are. It felt great to be back with Alessia and Lydia as they explored their relationship and dealt with the twists and turns they uncovered in terms of the general world. And the supporting cast is equally as enjoyable to see them interact with, in particular Fermi, who I felt really shone throughout his appearances. I think what makes them all feel so lovable though is the little human moments that pop up from time to time. Whether it be Alessia liking cat vlogs, or Lydia wanting to ‘bolt through the door, sprint down the corridor, and launch into Alessia’s arms like a twentieth-century Hollywood cliché’, it all adds a little relatable layer to the cast. The conversation between Lydia and Jezebel was another fine example of this; I really enjoyed that whole scene.
The intrigue built up steadily as things progressed, and we got to learn a lot more about Alessia’s people here. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that it was interesting seeing the way it all played out, and how different people reacted. The result though was that, while most characters maintained the primarily good or simply morally grey roles of the first book, we did get someone that was more of an actual villain at the end here.
In terms of stumbling blocks, though Rebecca showed that she is more than capable of some flash, this still won’t be a series for those that want a more military feel to their sci-fi. While I really liked the way everything came together too, the bittersweet tinge to the ending may also be an issue for some. The story is tied up nicely, and it’s not an unhappy ending. If anything, it feels like a realistic conclusion. But, it may not quite be what some expected going into the book. Honestly though, I hope it doesn’t put people off because, for me, it felt right.
Breaking The Surface is an easy title to recommend. The story offers some variance from the first book while still feeling clearly part of the same story, Rebecca’s writing is even smoother, and the cast is certain to raise a warm smile as they face their problems. I give this one the full 5 out of 5.