Beneath the Rising
by Premee Mohamed
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted March 5, 2020
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The world is safe. For now, for a while. But is it our world?
Premee Mohamed's debut novel, Beneath the Rising, was published on Tuesday, and I finished it late last night. It should appeal to those who like Lovecraft, and even those who don't, those that like creepy occult mysteries in general, and those who like a bit of humor mixed with their horror. My opening sentence refers to the fact this story is set in an alternate world, one in which the 9/11 hijackings occurred but where the planes crashed into the Hudson instead of the Twin Towers. In the end, the eldritch terrors, the Ancient Ones, the Elder Gods have been stymied, but it may be temporary, but that's in that alternate world. They may still threaten us. We should be careful not to do things that might awaken them here.
Nick Prasad and Joanna "Johnny" Chambers are teenagers living in Edmonton, Alberta in the early 2000s. Nick provides the first-person narration. He's poor, works in a bakery, lives with his divorced mother, his younger sister, and twin brothers. Johnny is rich, not because of her parents, but because of her own efforts. She is a child prodigy, a certified genius, with multiple inventions to her credit, from electronic devices to medical vaccines. Her parents are divorced too, but she lives independently from either of them. They are a most unlikely duo, whose friendship began when they met in the hospital while recovering from gunshot wounds they both incurred during a terrorist takeover of a children's theater group. Nick doesn't have any other friends, Johnny doesn't want any. He loves her, but has never revealed that to her. She is indifferent to emotional attachments, only intent on her scientific work. Things change after she invents a revolutionary new power source, which attracts the attention of supernatural forces.
Their adventures range across the world, from Canada to Fes in Morocco, to Carthage in Tunisia, to Nineveh in Iraq, all in pursuit of information needed to combat the evil forces pursuing them. Along the way Nick reflects on their past experiences, his feelings for her contrasted with her indifference to him other than as a helper, a gofer. Then a few secrets are revealed, which threatens to push them apart, possibly causing him to resist her agenda and fight against her. Even if he relents, lets his love for her keep him by her side, will she ever think of him any differently? Will he want her to? Throughout it all there is comical banter between them, taunts and criticisms, laced with profanities. It sometimes comes to outright arguments, but even when he's yelling at her, his love and concern for her shines through.
A suspension of disbelief is necessary, mostly concerning how two teenagers, one a frail, blonde girl, the other a dark-skinned young man, can make it across North Africa and into Iraq, fighting airport security and state police, always accomplishing heroic escapes. True, she does know karate, but there are news reports about them, photos circulated to other police. I decided one reason might have been there were some of the ancient ones working in their favor, helping them to maneuver around with the least amount of exposure. Another nitpick concerns the last incantation Johnny needs to close the portal, which she isn't able to use, yet she is still successful. It really doesn't matter though. This is a fun, although frightful, adventure story. The heroes need to win, even if certain things make you think they don't deserve it. Nick's narration is in turn exciting and fast-paced, and emotionally poignant, with his limited intelligence (in comparison to Johnny's) balanced with a generous spirit. Even Johnny's arrogance can be overlooked when viewed from the right perspective, what she has had to give up to accomplish her goals, which have always been more altruistic than avaricious. I give this debut a strong recommendation, a solid 4 out of 5 stars. It's a complete departure from her previously reviewed novella, The Apple-Tree Throne, but just as entertaining.
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