The Darwin Elevator

Thanks to TLC Book Tours, we're pleased to present a review for The Darwin Elevator, a new sci-fi novel by Jason Hough. Make sure to check out the rest of the tour stops to see other reviews!

By Jason M. Hough
Published on July 30th 2013
Published by Del Rey
Source: Netgalley/blog tour
In the mid-23rd century, Darwin, Australia, stands as the last human city on Earth. The world has succumbed to an alien plague, with most of the population transformed into mindless, savage creatures. The planet’s refugees flock to Darwin, where a space elevator—created by the architects of this apocalypse, the Builders—emits a plague-suppressing aura.

Skyler Luiken has a rare immunity to the plague. Backed by an international crew of fellow “immunes,” he leads missions into the dangerous wasteland beyond the aura’s edge to find the resources Darwin needs to stave off collapse. But when the Elevator starts to malfunction, Skyler is tapped—along with the brilliant scientist, Dr. Tania Sharma—to solve the mystery of the failing alien technology and save the ragged remnants of humanity.
The Darwin Elevator is definitely a book which leaves you asking questions and wanting to know more about what happens next.  The first book in a planned trilogy, there's just enough worldbuilding to get you settled, but there are still plenty of open ends left for the reader -- and the main characters.

The story follows Skyler, a ship captain and leader of a team of scavengers who travel to dangerous places to retrieve items for paying customers, or for resale on the black market. Darwin, Australia is the last inhabitable place on earth, thanks to an alien disease called SUBS that turned most humans on Earth into zombie-like creatures.  There are strange things going along with Darwin's space elevator, which has allowed for people to live in orbit, with trade going back and forth between Earth and the space settlement, and Skyler and his crew unwittingly get dragged into the drama.

Skyler is an interesting choice for a lead.  He's not your typical macho military dude type -- he's a bit downtrodden, given how crappy life is in Darwin, and he's pretty low down in the city's hierarchy as it is.  He's a leader of a team but lacks a lot of confidence to lead them in the best way.  Sure, he's kind of a badass, but  I liked the fact that he was allowed to show weakness.  I would have been interested in learning more of his backstory, which we only get hints at, to help see what drives him.  Was he always like this, or was there some sort of traumatic event in the recent past that shook his confidence?

I also wish we got to see more of the supporting characters, which were almost universally a class of kick-butt women: Skyler's second in command Samantha; Tania and her assistant Natalie; and Kelly, who does some very special covert work aboard one of the space stations.  They're all strong, capable characters who, with the exception of Tania, don't get fleshed out very much.  I found them far more interesting than Russell Blackfield, the main bad guy who is basically has a huge ego and is a huge douchebag.  I spent most of the book waiting for him to get what's coming to him, I disliked him that much.

There are a lot of different plotlines going on in this story: political/military corruption going on down in Darwin; the malfunctioning of the elevator; rivalries and tensions between the citizens of Darwin and the people who live up in orbit; and the discoveries that scientist Tania Sharma makes about the Elevator and its origins.  As a result, there are a lot of moving parts and dynamics to keep track of, which sometimes made the plot a bit cumbersome.  It's not a bad thing, I just found myself needing reminders sometimes of who was on what side, things like that.

Also, being a trilogy, there are a lot of loose ends.  I mean, the book works okay as a stand-alone, but if you want to know the answers to the overarching questions of the book's mythology -- who built the elevator? how is it connected to SUBS? what will happen next? -- you'll have to stick around for the next two books.

It is heavy on the action and light on the romance, although there are some hints of it between Skyler and Tania.  There is some violence, a lot of cursing, and some sexual situations, so I would recommend this for older teens and up.

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