‘The Darwin Elevator’ by James M. Hough ended with the discovery of a second space elevator and a new, moveable aura to protect Earth’s survivors from a deadly plague. ‘The Exodus Towers’, book two of ‘The Dire Earth Cycle’, begins shortly afterward. There is no rest for the weary! It’s another race against time, the deadline shortened to a pair of years, but the questions are bigger and the puzzles more complex. Is the new space elevator a second chance for humanity or is it a new kind of cage?
A second colony is established in Brazil, at the base of the new space elevator and, for a while, its business as usual. Every decision is processed by the slow-moving machine of the provisional leadership, headed by Dr. Tania Sharma. On the ground, Skyler Luiken resumes his trade: scavenging. In Darwin, Russell Blackfield gnashes his teeth with evil intent and Samantha proves size does matter. Subhumans are still subhuman and the Builders are still inscrutable.
Hough doesn’t tell the same story twice, however. Using established elements, he immediately deepens the mystery, adding a band of Immunes and more deviously altered sub-humans. He also plays with fanaticism. It’s not a proper post-apocalypse without a couple of religious nutcases, after all. The leader of the new immunes dreams of a new world populated by a superior race (sound familiar?) and, back in Darwin, the leader of the Jacobites is spreading fear and fervor. The second elevator is a problem for Jacobite Grillo; there should be only one Jacob’s Ladder. The colony at the base of the second elevator is a problem for Gabriel and his gang of immunes; the humans clustered within its aura are untested.
One of these men will be dealt with, the other needs to be dealt with. Separately, they keep Skyler and Samantha busy until the Builders arrive, as scheduled.
Once again, Hough does well with descriptive language which lifts this story from a bland recount of events. It’s all action with precious few moments for recollection. (We can rest when we’re dead, right?) Again, there is a thread of urgency wound through the entire novel that tightens quickly toward the conclusion. But this time everyone is tired and mistakes are made, the consequences of which are increasingly dire. The post-plague world is an unforgiving place.
‘The Exodus Towers’ is definitely the middle child, however. Over the span of five hundred odd pages, we build up for a tantrum that’s not loosed. The characters keep the book on track, even after Blackfield falls off the rails somewhere. Tania remains true to form and the parallels between her and Blackfield are neatly done. Karl is a great foil for both Tania and Skyler. Ana is a cute distraction. I’d like to see more Vanessa in the next book.
Skyler still seems to lack an ultimate purpose. He’s a bit like a piece of driftwood. Hopefully’ the conclusion to the trilogy will have him doing something other than kicking ass and taking names.
Samantha really shines in this one. I’d like to say she’s written with too much naiveté to be believable. But, after thinking about her for a while and taking into account the couple of times she mentions actively ignoring hints the size of the moon, really, she’s just burying her head in the sand, which is a very human trait.
The conclusion is an almost unforgiveable cliff-hanger. ‘The Exodus Towers’ is not a standalone novel, by any means. But the last line will guarantee one of two responses:
Bugger this, I don’t care what happens next.
Or (more likely):
When is the next book out? What! That’s soon enough!
Thankfully for those who choose option number two, ‘The Plague Forge’ is due for release September 24. Nice to be spoiled for a change, isn’t it?
(pub: Del Rey/Ballantine. 516 page paperback. Price: $ 9.99 (US), $11.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-53714-0
pub: Titan Books. 400 page paperback. Price: £ 6.99. ISBN: 978-1-78116-765-6)