I’ve been reading a lot of great fantasy lately after a relatively dry spell and discovering Simon Morden has been an absolute treat. I actually found his great blog first and was blown away by his thought provoking essay Sex, Death and Christian Fiction that mirrored so many of my own thoughts and feelings.
I saw an ad for Down Station and three sentences into the description I knew it was a book for me:
A small group of commuters and tube workers witness a fiery apocalypse overtaking London. They make their escape through a service tunnel. Reaching a door they step through…and find themselves on a wild shore backed by cliffs and rolling grassland. The way back is blocked. Making their way inland they meet a man dressed in a wolf’s cloak and with wolves by his side. He speaks English and has heard of a place called London – other people have arrived here down the ages – all escaping from a London that is burning. None of them have returned. Except one – who travels between the two worlds at will. The group begin a quest to find this one survivor; the one who holds the key to their return and to the safety of London.
And as they travel this world, meeting mythical and legendary creatures, split between North and South by a mighty river and bordered by The White City and The Crystal Palace they realize they are in a world defined by all the London’s there have ever been.
It would be really hard to give this story a proper review without spoiling it for everyone so apologies if I seem a little vague. There is a lot that I really enjoyed about this book. One, you guys know how I feel about doors to other worlds so when a gateway opens to another world as workers try and flee a burning London Underground I was giddy with anticipation. Into the world of Down stumbles a rag tag group of strong personalities who are torn between trying to find a way back home and accepting there’s no home to go back to.
The world building in the story is magnificently in flux as the land manifests what it’s occupants need and desire. It is also a place that heightens what ever you are deep down inside. For example the character of Stanislav hides a deep rooted anger and violence that grows and changes him, while Mary, a street kid trying to go straight, has the ability to use a magic that has always been inside of her. Down feeds off its inhabitants, shaping itself as it needs to.
My favourite character in the book is Crows, a Myrddin Wylt type mad magician that hordes maps of Down and can travel between worlds. His motivations are guarded and ambiguous and you never really know what side he is on. Despite that you can’t help but like him. He’s an enigma.
The book also doesn’t seek to over explain magic – something I always appreciate. Magic in Down just IS. The writer could have spent hundreds of words describing the complex mechanics of how the magic and Down fit together but he hasn’t. There is a mention of magic being stronger on ley lines and thats about it. Magic in Down is as common as dirt. You accept that its apart of the scenery.
The writing itself is very clear and concise and to a not so well trained eye could almost seem a simplistic style of storytelling. Writers reading it will quietly marvel (as this writer did) because they know such writing is extremely difficult to execute with any kind of narrative success. Each sentence is carefully selected. There are no unnecessary flourishes, no fatty bits that could be done away with. Its lean and more powerful because of it.
I like books that make me question things and you can’t help but self reflect by the end: If I went to Down…what would I become?