Book Review: The Beneath

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Author: S.C. Ransom
ISBN: 978-0-85763276-0
RRP: $13.99

The Beneath is the latest offering from English author of The Small Blue Thing trilogy S.C. Ransom. The Beneath is written with a similar audience in mind but it is in a much more sinister vein.

The network of tunnels underneath New York has been widely immortalised and I think I first fell in love with the societies that form in under city tunnels in the TV series Beauty and The Beast of the late 1980’s. The Beneath has a similar premise but is set half a world away.

In the tunnels under London, far below the tunnels used for the Underground, lives a community that has survived for hundreds of years. Their leader is the Farmer and he is the only one who can control the Crop, a vicious beast used to keep the community in their designated areas. The community began with the outcasts of society and survived the centuries with reproduction, as the generations passed the inhabitants came to know only the teachings of the community, especially as it related to the world Above.

Lily is a London teenager living an isolated life and struggling with bullies at school. She had an average life up until not too long ago when scandal rocked her family, leaving her living with an ex-nanny while her family are half a world away.

One afternoon as she waits on the platform for her Tube train she is confronted with the sight of a girl running down the track in front of the train, trying to outrun it. Without a second thought Lily ends up leaning into the track to pull her to safety with seconds to spare – and that was the moment Lily’s life took a dramatic turn.

the beneath

Ransom makes good use of suspense and the pacing was consistent. I had worked out a couple of the big reveals well before they were revealed but there were still a couple of surprises in store. The characters were well written and believable, with motivations you could truly empathise with. Both girls are mid-teen and living in totally different worlds, Ransom has written the contrasts very well.

The girl on the Tube track is Aria, a member of a secret underground community who has come to the surface on an important mission. She has never been Above before and is completely unprepared for what she finds.

Lily and Aria form a strong bond of friendship, largely I think because they don’t have anyone else. Lily is the only person Aria knows Above so she looks to her for help understanding the world she has walked into. Lily feels responsible for Aria to an extent and as she learns about the life she led below Lily wants to do all she can to protect Aria from having to return to it.

The Beneath has it all, there is a touch of teen crushes, two worlds colliding, lovable characters, an evil dictator and a couple of unexpected twists to keep you on your toes. This is compelling entertainment that most definitely falls on the dark side yet refrains from graphic and gratuitous gore. The darkness is insinuated or fades to black, leaving most of it up to your imagination, which I think can be even more effective than graphic explanations.

S.C. Ransom you captured my attention again and I did not want to put this down. I was fascinated by the world building and it always intrigues me to think about segregated societies living so near and yet so far from us. All of such societies I have previously come across have been very peaceful communities and though that is how this one may have begun somewhere along the way their philosophies became twisted and that is far from where they ended up.

The philosophies and the history of the community below were explained well and quite detailed, I enjoyed knowing the why and the how. More than that though I was captivated by Lily and Aria talking about their different worlds and seeing the contrasts through their eyes. Lily, totally unable to comprehend the way Aria has been brought up and how she can possibly stand it. On the other side is Aria, overwhelmed by the opportunities afforded to Lily.

The Beneath is told in the first person by both Lily and Aria with the perspective changing mid chapter. Slowly the reason for Aria being Above becomes apparent, through Aria’s thoughts not what she shares with Lily.

Lily wants to help Aria make a better life for herself Above when she hears about what life is like for her at home but as is often the way with teenage girls the world over, petty jealousy over a boy jeopardises their friendship – as well as their lives.

The Beneath is gripping reading aimed at a teen audience but sure to satisfy readers of all ages. I am curious to know what happens next for all of these characters.

The Beneath is out now through Allen & Unwin and where all good books are sold.

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