To be honest, I have not yet finished this month's selection, Ross Lawhead's The Realms Thereunder, a situation I hope to rectify this evening. The destination is in sight but there are a few more turns in the tunnel.
Set in England and Scotland for the most part, the story centers on Daniel Tully and Freya Reynolds and goes back and forth between their present lives and what happened to them eight years before when they were schoolmates, both thirteen years old. On a school trip to a church in Abbingdon in the Britsh Midlands, the pair go missing and are found two months later in Scotland. They stumble on a passage in the old church to a world underground. There, they encounter warriors from Alfred the Great's time and a fortress city called Niðergeard on a vast underground plain that is under seige. Evil forces and creatures dwell deep underground. Centuries before, they were driven from the lands above ground. The defenders of Niðergeard are part of the defences that keep the evil at bay.
The other half of Daniel's and Freya's story finds them in Oxford. Daniel is living on the streets while Freya is a student. Their earlier experiences have effected them in dramatically different ways. Daniel still carries on the fight against the evil they encountered underground. He's convinced something momentous and possibly horrific is about to happen, that the evil is welling up and invading the present. Freya is mentally unstable and suffers from a compulsive disorder. She wants to forget about what happened beneath the church but the experience has reshaped her view of history, which is now rather unorthodox. Daniel and Freya are being pursued because of what they know from their past experience and, like any good thriller, it's not clear who is friend and foe.
Another thread of the narrative follows Alex Simpson, an officer in the Northern Constabulary. He's tracking crime in Scotland, looking for crime patterns--missing or mangled livestock, suicides, robberies--that might point to suspicious activity and finds it in Caithness, a sparsely populated area in northeastern Scotland. I would like to see more of Alex, but Lawhead only gives us a few chapters, perhaps laying the groundwork for the next book in the series.
Movement between worlds in Lawhead's story takes place at certain doorways, usually arches, and at between times, such as the time between day and night. These passages are also only open to certain people. The passage in the Abbingdon church opens beneath an arch and then closes, returning to a stone wall. Daniel passes from present-day Oxford to Elfland when he passes under the arch of a lychgate. The Realms Thereunder is a unique mix of fantasy and suspense elements, but it reminds me of many other books. First, with the name Lawhead on the cover, I can't help thinking about ley-travel from Stephen Lawhead's Bright Empires series when Ross Lawhead's characters jump between worlds. Like C. S. Lewis's The Silver Chair and Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, much of the action takes place underground. The elves Daniel encounters are a far cry from the generally noble elves in Tolkien. Lawhead's elves are dangerous, a mix of good and cunning nastiness, reminiscent of Lord Dunsany's elves or those brothers from Neil Gaiman's Stardust who must kill off their siblings to claim the crown.
In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of The Realms Thereunder from the publisher.
Book Giveaway: Fellow CSFF blogger Sarah Sawyer is hosting a contest during the tour so stop by her blog to register.
To read more about Ross Lawhead and his work, check out his blog at www.rosslawhead.com/blog.
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