________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 13 . . . . November 28, 2014


Below. (The Broken Sky Chronicles, Book 1).

Jason Chabot.
Toronto, ON: HarperTrophyCanada / HarperCollins Canada, 2014.
312 pp., trade pbk., $17.99.
ISBN 978-1-44340-779-3.

Subject Heading:
Science fiction.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by Stephanie Dror.

**** /4



A bold of lightning tore across the sky like a white hot, blood less vein. The churning clouds ruptured with its sudden crack. Half a second later, a body broke through the heavy underbelly of the storm, appearing to hover for a moment.

Then it fell.

Hokk's neck pulsed with excitement. Let this one be real, not another hallucination.

As it dropped, the body picked up speed.

Hokk had been kneeling, digging in the soil for worms to eat, but now he stood tall above the rippling prairie grasses, the explosive thunderclap still ringing in his ears. The white wrapping of the bundled corpse had unravelled into a long fluttering tail, creating a start contrast against the menacing sky.

As Hokk expected, the body's free fall slowed midway between the clouds and the grasslands, trapped momentarily in a layer of the atmosphere that seemed to oppose gravity. Yet the earth's pull was unrelenting, and the body slipped past the invisible barrier, continuing to fall. Hokk was too far away to hear the thud, but he saw it bounce and come to rest, hidden in the grasses.

Another flash and a roar of thunder.

Hokk was not well camouflaged. He had to be careful. A vast and apparently empty prairie stretched around him, but he couldn't be sure that other's hadn't witnessed the body's descent.

Below is the first in the planned trilogy of "The Broken Sky Chronicles" by first-time Canadian author Jason Chabot. Set in the far future, Below presents a post apocalyptic Earth split into two realms: Below, a cloud covered flatlands ravaged by prairie storms and littered with remnants of the Ancients: skeletons of skyscraper filled cities and plastics; and Above, where islands float atop the clouds in ceaseless blue skies and sunshine. The islands are isolated, ruled by custom and fear of Imperial wrath or the creatures that haunt the underside of their islands, their people know nothing but the life that is allowed them. Both Below and Above are ruled in harsh medieval fashion enforced by spy networks and Imperial guards (respectively). Unsettlingly close to dystopic as life in these realms might be, change is in the wind when Elia, a laundry maid, is handed a box containing an item which could topple her government. Indeed, change seems inevitable as the islands have begun to sink down into Below, gouging great scars into the prairies and threatening the civilizations there. Somewhere within this unavoidable planetary transformation lies the fate of Hokk, the man and his trusty fox from Below, and Elia.

      Below is post apocalyptic at its roots, but the nature of the world allows the introduction of tropes from fantasy, dystopia and science fiction, injecting much needed originality into this recently oversaturated genre. Chabot's islands of Above feel like a medieval fantasy land, with its imperial monarchies, flying horses and the folk tales of monsters and strange bone curses, while the realm of Below reads like a true post apocalyptic civilization cobbled together on top of the remnants of what came before. While the sundering of the world is not explained, it is beautifully rendered in Chabot's tantalizing exposition. The characters are firmly rooted in their respective world views which helps to bring these two unique societies to life. Both Hokk and Elia believably fight for their survival while they teach each other about their respective ways of life and that, at their core, they are both human.

      Below is a refreshingly epic beginning to a promising Canadian series that reads similar to the works of Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weiss. It might be slow to start, but give the world and its characters some time to sink in, and, before you know, the heart stopping action will sweep you away and you'll be at the end before you realize it. I highly recommend this book to lovers of fantasy, science fiction or epic reads. Adults and sophisticated young adult readers (no cursing or explicit content) will truly enjoy this book and wait impatiently with me until Book 2 is released!

Highly Recommended.

Stephanie Dror holds an MA in Children's literature from the School of Library and Archival Studies, the University of British Columbia.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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