by Maureen A. Miller (c) 2018
10 out of 10 stars!
A mostly spoiler free review
It is the year 2019, 2 weeks before first semester college courses begin.
Stella Gullaksen is on her best friend’s family’s sport fishing boat (the Starkissed) in the Atlantic Ocean, 100 miles off the coast of New Jersey, ready to vomit. A supposed casual overnight tuna-fishing trip has turned topsy-turvy as a non-predicted, yet wretched, storm has hit. Jill Wexler is that best friend. She, her mother Anne, her dad, Don, and her older brother Colin are also on the boat.
The unexpected storm is so bad that the boat capsizes and sinks. As Stella is sinking, she is pulled into a siphon so strong that she cannot break out of it to swim back to the surface. She is sucked down, down, down . . . and then a tow pulls her sideways and she loses consciousness.
When she awakens, Stella is in an undersea cavern system – 2000 feet below the ocean surface! (though we later find out it may actually be 6000 feet below) Oddly, she is able to breathe. The entire cavern system is oxygen filled! Colin is already there. Why can she see him? Colin had strapped a flashlight onto his wrist before he went overboard. As they are discussing why the flashlight is working at such a deep distance, a hand shoots out of the pool and slips back under the water. Colin jumps in. Moments later he returns to the surface with his father in tow. Not long after, Jill also surfaces.
Still somewhat in a state of shock, Colin and Jill hand the flashlight to Jill & Mr. Wexler and decide to explore as far as the flashlight’s glow would allow them to go. As they reach the farthest distance of the light, they both agree that there seems to be a glow coming from deeper within the caverns. When they decide to push forward and beyond the distance of the beam, they run into a man who appears with a lantern.
Wait! There are other people in the undersea cavern? Real, live, people? Yes! People who have been missing at sea or pronounced dead from long ago have made a small colony with the flotsam and debris which has been sucked into the cavern too. The man takes Stella and the family into the bowels of the cavern system where a village exists, a product of years and years of salvage.
Although the riders of the Starkissed are surprised to see them, the people aren’t surprised by their presence. Apparently they were expected after Mrs. Wexler showed up in another of the various arrival pools. Mrs. Wexler, however, did not fare well in her journey and was not in good shape. She was laying in critical condition in the village’s “infirmary,” a gutted torso of a sheared aluminum airplane.
What’s the status of these people who disappeared decades ago? They are malnourished looking, pale, and their skin appears to be super thin. Oddly, they appear to be much younger than they are. They haven’t aged at the same rate they would have on the surface, perhaps due to no exposure to the sun’s harmful rays and the pollutants in earth’s atmosphere.
Currently there are a handful of residents, but we discover others have come before and after these ones, only to die from their injuries, CO2 disorientation, or from trying to escape.
Spoiler alert: We discover later that although the residents of this underworld don’t seem to age, the longer they stay in this atmosphere, their bodies begin to change into something other than human.
Hydrothermal vents sustain the oxygen in the caverns.
How about the neighborhood? It is actually formed from wooden ship carcasses, pieces of old war planes, remains of cargo containers, pieces of yachts, naval ships that have sunk in battle, and such. Items such as medical supplies, cans of food, soap, clothing and whatnot have been gleaned from the flotsam that’s been sucked into the pools. Items are sorted through and those not used immediately are kept in a supply cavern for later needs.
The residents have a system of torches dotting the walls which provide light.
Each resident is assigned a chore to keep the ‘village’ going. Laundry, re-oiling the torches, gathering and moving toilet waste to a designated cave so as to regulate the carbon dioxide in the cavern, sorting the “inventory” that arrives, and fishing, are some of those chores.
The start of each new ‘day’ is marked by the ringing a bell after the long sleep time of ‘day.’ Speaking to one of the residents, Colin discovers that they think it is getting close to the year 2000. Although in actuality it is the year 2019, Colin doesn’t think there method of tracking time is too bad considering there is no actual way to track the rotation of the earth .
We learn that people don’t leave the cavern because there is no way to leave. People who have tried to leave have been sucked back by the siphon … or have been apparently eaten by sharks – the body parts that have returned indicate that.
We also discover that unbeknownst to each other until this event, Stella & Colin have an attraction to each other. They want to get out of this place and return to the world above. As they question the residents about possible ways out, they discourage the two from exploring the cavern system. They so stongly affirm that there is NO way to the surface through any other part of the caverns that the two feel that there is something important being kept from them. Of course that only prods them forward. They begin to explore the cavern system when everyone is sleeping at ‘night.’
The residents begin preparing for their ‘New Year’ celebration.
And we musn’t forget Mrs. Wexler. She has been unconscious since her arrival. … When her outcome is clear, things change almost immediately. One of the residents, who now realizes how much she misses her own mother, shows Stella & Colin a possible way out of the caves. …The remainder of the book revolves around this possible way out.
Nope, I’m not spoiling the end!
The overall premise of Beneath was truly different from most of the fiction I read. The shocking things that were unveiled were explained plausibly enough that I could ‘buy’ into it. The main characters were people I cared about: I was rooting for Colin and Stella the whole time. The end was satisfying, but left me wanting to know MORE – so much so that I bought the sequel to find out what happened next!
It was an excellent book too!
I highly recommend this book. It is different. It’s well told. And, it is definitely memorable.