Falling Sky by Rajan Khanna
Genre: Adult fantasy/steampunk/dystopian
Release date: October 7 2014
Source: ARC from publisher
The nitty-gritty: A rollicking adventure tale, in the air and on the ground, an unpredictable main character, and lots of humor to keep things grounded.
I stare into a woman’s face. Brilliant blue eyes, A jagged scar across one of them. Black hair spilling down shot through with grey.
“Claudia,” I say. “Your scar is looking good.”
She pulls me up more. “You’re just saying that ‘cause you’re the one who sewed it up.” She flashes me a humorless smile, then throws me back onto the ground.
One of the most interesting—and frustrating—parts of this book was the main character, Ben Gold, who loses his precious airship, and then tries to get it back. Ben is a hot-headed sort of character who acts before he thinks, and often makes terrible choices. For many readers he is the sort of “unreliable character” that one might hope to find, and for this reason he kept the story interesting for me. But he also did some fantastically terrible things (which I won’t mention in this review), and one scene in particular nearly made me put the book down for good. So in the end I would have to say I didn’t like Ben’s character all that much. But did he compel me to keep reading Falling Sky? Yes, he did!
Despite my feelings for Ben, you can tell from my four-star rating that I enjoyed this book, and even though Goodreads doesn’t mention a sequel in the works, Falling Sky ends on a cliffhanger (and not a bad one, by the way!) and I am very excited to see what happens next.
The story takes place in an apocalyptic future, after a terrible virus called the Bug decimates the human population, turning people who catch it into “Ferals” who are deadly not only because they might attack you, but because the Bug flows through their blood and saliva, making it nearly impossible to escape the virus if you come into physical contact with one. Ben is the proud owner of an airship that he inherited from his grandfather, and he keeps to the skies as much as possible, where Ferals can’t go. But he’s taken on a job protecting a girl named Miranda, a determined scientist who is looking for a cure for the Bug. With Ben’s help, Miranda captures Ferals and draws blood samples to take back to her laboratory for study. After discovering something new in her latest sample, however, Miranda realizes that a cure might actually be possible, if only she can capture and bring back a live feral. Ben disagrees, and after a bitter fight, they part ways.
As Ben is leaving, he inadvertently gets caught between two warring airships, and after setting down on the ground to help, his ship is stolen. The rest of the story is more or less Ben trying to find his stolen ship and take it back, but it’s a little more complicated than that, as he finds himself stuck between two factions: Gastown, a peaceful community of people who have grouped their airships together to form a city in the sky; and Valhalla, an organized group of thugs who are determined to take over Gastown and steal their most precious commodity.
No doubt about it, Falling Sky is a gritty and violent story, but it had many humorous moments as well. Khanna has a great ear for dialogue, something I always appreciate, and Ben, as annoying as he was (to me), has a sarcastic streak that kept me laughing. I especially loved his relationships with the women in his life—notice I said “women”?—and yes, there is a bit of a love triangle brewing, but it didn’t bother me. Although I wasn’t convinced by his growing closeness to Miranda, I did love his interactions with old flame Claudia.
Despite the women who are vying for his affections, Ben’s true love is his beloved airship, The Cherub. Because Ben tells the story in first person, we get some very personal descriptions of the ship. Ben will do anything to find her and get her back, and at times I felt as if he were too single-minded in his quest. But this focused determination gives the story a place to go, and even though I found the first half a bit meandering at times, the story takes off like a rocket once Ben loses his ship.
An oddly sweet side story about Ben rediscovering his religion could have been overly sentimental, but it worked for me, mostly because it gives him a much-needed human side. But most of the best character sketches were the scenes where Ben and Miranda clash over what to do with the Ferals. Miranda is a true scientist and risks her life to find a cure for a creature that she truly believes is innocent. But Ben wants nothing to do with helping Ferals at all. Ben’s fear of getting too close to a Feral and his attitude in general that Ferals are lost causes reminded me of the AIDS scare during the 1980s.
Falling Sky is a solid start to an exciting series (I hope!). The ending was perfect, in my opinion, and leaves us anxious to see what trouble Ben will get into next.
Big thanks to Pyr for supplying a review copy. The above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.
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