“Your blood will run cold”. That’s the quote on the front cover to hook you in. The fool in me responded in the manner of Barney from How I Met Your Mother: “Challenge accepted”. Guys, this one is creepy: don’t-read-it-before-bed creepy. And I say that as a grown adult.
Zak and his family find their plane grounded at a remote base in Antarctica. Ground Zero is part of the Exodus Project: where people are preparing for life on Mars. Except when Zak and his family arrive, all the inhabitants are gone and what they find in their place is chilling. There is an undercurrent of something very sinister happening, a sinister character called The Broker, and the place is filled with creepy tick-tack noises. What is going on?
Yeah. I’m not telling you. You’re going to have to pick up a copy and read it yourself.
I will tell you that Below Zero is brilliantly written, it is tense, fast-paced and full of action and adventure: once you start it, you don’t want to stop reading. You have to know how it ends. It is a really original concept which kept me guessing until the end and even then wasn’t at all what I had expected. When I attended an event with Dan Smith, I was interested to see that the thing under the ice wasn’t what he had originally conceived either. It was interesting to hear about his writing process and how the novel came about.
The characters are brilliantly written, especially Zak, the youngest member of his family. He has an illness which is really well handled in the novel. It is part of the story without consuming it, and the way the family relate to it seemed very realistic. When he starts having strange visions, he feels like he is going mad. His illness makes him feel vulnerable and he just wants to be the hero for a change, like the characters in his favourite stories. I loved this wish-fulfilment aspect of the story and seeing Zak grow up as the story went on. His sister May is a wonderful character. She is a perfect balance of boundary-pushing teenager and concerned about her younger brother. She is strong, determined and hilarious.
I also loved the setting. I love any kind of winter setting generally, but in Below Zero, the landscape really adds to the tension and chilling feeling of the story.
This is the first of Dan’s books I have picked up and it definitely won’t be the last.