________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 6 . . . . October 14, 2016


Icarus Down.

James Bow.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2016.
374 pp., trade pbk. & html, $14.99 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4431-3913-7 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4431-3914-4 (html).

Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.

Review by Rob Bittner.

***½ /4



My name is Simon Daud, and I was never the special one.

My brother Isaac, now, he was a golden boy. Everything came to him easily. He walked into a room and people smiled. He turned in his perfect schoolwork and his teachers smiled. He turned his bright eyes toward a girl, and she smiled. He went to the flight academy a year early, became the youngest full-fledged pilot in our colony's history, and the mayor himself smiled, and gave him a medal. In short, the universe smiled on Isaac. Right up to the day he died.

Simon Daud, a teenage pilot and inhabitant of Icarus Down, is in trouble. His father died, his mother committed suicide—or so they say—and after a disastrous first flight from Daedalus to Iapyx, his brother died as well. When Simon wakes up after a three-month coma to his brother's ex-girlfriend caring for him and a very surprising medal ceremony complete with attendance from the Mayor of Iapyx and the Chief of Security, he is thrust into a series of events he could never have anticipated. The city he knows so well, the city suspended from the cliffs, to hide them from the sun, is beginning to fall apart, and many are saying it's sabotage. But others are saying it's a conspiracy from the government, itself. Who should Simon believe? Who should he trust? And what will happen if their city collapses to the ground and they are faced with a predator they know nothing about? Icarus Down is a novel that is difficult to summarize as there are so many twists, turns, and secrets that appear throughout.

      Upon being cast out of the city he has grown up in, Simon attempts to survive on his own, but only truly develops upon coming into contact with—and being rescued by—a girl who, at first, seems to be an enemy, but who eventually becomes a friend. Eliza lives on the surface and speaks the same as the monsters Simon has been taught to fear. But upon further interaction and through weeks of cooperative survival, the two learn not to fear one other, but rather to work together. The middle third of the novel truly highlights this development and is, perhaps, my favourite portion of the book. The enemies, though seemingly two-dimensional, actually become fully developed in the last third of the book, especially once their secrets are revealed and the truth of the monsters, the Grounders, and the survivors of earth come out in a spectacular climax.

      Bow's writing is fast-paced, easy to follow, and engrossing. There is not a great amount of complexity in the actual language, but the prose is enticing nonetheless. I did find the language barriers between Eliza and Simon to be overcome a bit too easily, and their understanding of each other to the point of discussing some rather complex concepts was perhaps unrealistically fast. That being said, the switching perspectives work pretty well in the long run and manage to give a bit more depth to the overall story.

      Though there is a lot of originality to this narrative, a few points are quite similar to other science fiction franchises. The term "Grounders", used throughout the novel to refer to a group who wants to better understand the surface of the planet on which they live, is the same term used in the series The 100 (both a book and a TV series), and the idea of faster-than-light "jumps" is also very similar to a core concept in the Battlestar Galactica franchise. Not that these concepts in any way ruin the plot or the overall novel, it feels as though a reconceptualization would have benefitted the creation of a completely new world/universe for the novel.

      Icarus Down is a great novel, and one that will be of great interest to lovers of science fiction, alien stories, and tales of the interstellar.

Highly Recommended.

Rob Bittner is a graduate of the MA in Children's Literature program at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. He is currently a doctoral candidate in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies at Simon Fraser University.

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

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