It is 2283 and Earth is very different. First, aliens (known as Builders) set down a space elevator in the city of Darwin, Australia, and a few years later, they released a plague that decimated humanity. The only safe zone is a nine mile plague-suppressing radius around the space elevator, and so Darwin is the last human settlement on Earth.
The Darwin Elevator is an action-packed and entertaining book. We mostly follow Skyler, the captain of a scavenger ship whose crew is entirely immune to the plague, and Tania, a brilliant scientist who’s come up with a theory concerning the Builders that could be world-shattering. When Tania’s research needs data from long-forgotten laboratories, Skyler’s team is sent to retrieve it. But as they work on solving this increasingly urgent mystery, the delicate political balance between the city of Darwin and the inhabitants of the space station is crumbling, and their time is running out in more than one way.
I loved the worldbuilding of the Darwin’s Elevator universe. Many authors create fantastic but implausible worlds, but Hough centers his world on the essentials – food, water, air. There is no space on Earth to grow food to feed all the remnants of humanity, so food is mostly grown on special agricultural space stations, but water and air for these stations need to be supplied from Earth. This creates a robust trade between the “Orbitals” and the humans on Earth, but the leader of Darwin is not satisfied – he wants more power. I would hope that humanity’s desperate situation would cut down on the individual power plays, but I’m not actually surprised by it.
Skyler is a pretty awesome main character. I liked him a lot because he’s just a regular guy – he’s not young, naive and just discovering his place in the world, and neither is he an old, grizzled veteran who’s seen too much. He’s just a guy trying to get by and take care of his crew. His motives are not especially noble, but he’s not a profiteer Han Solo type either. His normalcy really came across well, and worked! Tania, on the other hand, was a bit of a Mary Sue, she’s brilliant and also so beautiful that no man can look at her and not appreciate it, noble, brave, highly competent, had important parents etc. I have a special peeve for women that are described as so beautiful that it turns every man into a lecher, though (Leesha from Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle annoys me for the same reason). The side characters were more interesting and varied than the main two – Samantha, Kelly, the Platzes, Prumble, to name a few, not to mention the villains. I hope they get more story time in the sequels.
I really liked the more sci-fi aspects of the plot – the mystery surrounding the Builders and their artifacts and their plans, the malfunctioning elevator and the evolution of a new species of subhuman. I found all the subhuman battle stuff somewhat boring though – zombies aren’t that interesting, and I would’ve rather had more sci-fi stuff. Technically, they’re all related since they’re all caused by the Builders, but still, meh, zombies. However, the end seems to set up a sequel where the sci-fi elements will be more prominent, so I’m excited about that.
Note: I received a review copy of The Darwin Elevator via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest opinion. See more details and the full tour schedule here.
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