A Tunnel in the Sky

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Beneath the Rising Series
by Premee Mohamed

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted March 5, 2020
Edits & Addenda on March 29, 2021 and May 12, 2022

Book 2: A Broken Darkness / Book 3: The Void Ascendant

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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, 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 three sentences 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, have been stymied, but it may be temporary, and 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 threaten 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 was a rogue Ancient One working in their favor (or maybe one of the Elder Gods that had been in hiding) 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 successful(?) anyway. 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 (at least by her claim) 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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Posted March 29, 2021
I wasn't aware there was going to be a sequel when I read the first book, but I pre-ordered as soon as I heard about it. The publication date of A Broken Darkness is debatable. Originally announced for March 2, it was later delayed until the 30th, however some readers got e-books ahead of that date. I got the paperback from Bookshop, and while their site (and Amazon) still says the 30th, my copy arrived on the 23rd. I'll refrain from too many details, but will say that in the beginning it seemed it would be too similar to the first book, but that changed about a third of the way in, and remained unpredictable after that.

One thing I didn't mention in my review of the first book was the Ssarati Society, a group of scholars and would-be magicians who researched the Ancient Ones, the previous times they had been defeated and banished, along with the spells that accomplished that. Johnny was not a member, but did occasionally work with them on research, and everything she learned she filed away for future use. After the events that concluded the first book, Nick convinced Johnny that he no longer wanted to be associated with her, he only wanted to get back to his family, to resume a normal life. Instead, he secretly joined the Ssarati, one of his tasks being to keep track of Johnny's activities. About a year and a half after the event that became known as "The Anomaly," Nick travels to Edinburgh for the unveiling of Johnny's latest scientific development. It is not an exaggeration to say that the result is "all hell breaking loose." No matter how vehemently Johnny declares it's not her fault, that it's impossible for there to be another incursion from the other dimensions, neither Nick, the Society, or I believed her. She had lied about so many other things, why not this?

Nick and Johnny's love/hate relationship continued. Every time he was convinced the best thing for everyone was for him to kill her, she said or did something that compelled him to follow her. This time their journeys led them to Prague, back to Edinburgh, eventually to Peru, in addition to several side trips to alternate dimensions, either purposefully or inadvertently. Most of Johnny's explanations of what she intends is a mixture of science and magic, using real historical events and fictional ones. Some of the Ancient Ones are direct from Lovecraft, others are fabricated from the author's imagination, or from other sources such as World of Warcraft. It's hard to judge Johnny's motives and intent, since she keeps so many secrets, and she lies about almost everything, most especially to Nick. Yet he continues to follow her lead, just like the lonely puppy she wanted him to be. I do recommend this while still acknowledging some misgivings, and many of those center on Nick and Johnny's volatile relationship. That and a few things that didn't happen as expected, such as a character re-entering the story at a strategic point, or the revelation of a power Nick possessed. As I said earlier, unpredictable. Just as Nick had a hard time balancing his feelings for Johnny, I also have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the author. How dare she make me care about such broken people. Fast-paced, horrific, constantly surprising, the ending will stick with me a long, long time.


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Posted May 12, 2022
The first and second books in this series are sufficient unto themselves, and after both I assumed that was the end of the story. Premee surprised me with the second title, and its ending didn't hint at a sequel either. Yet here we are with the third (final?) book. The Void Ascendant picks up about seven years after the end of the previous volume. Or it could be eight years, since the planet Nick Prasad is on has a different orbital pattern and rotation speed than Earth. There's not much else to say that wouldn't spoil all three books, so this will be brief.

I didn't, and still won't, reveal the ending of the second book, other than saying Nick had been trapped in a bubble of space, a void, and when he came back to consciouness he was on another planet, and the one who finds him hails him as the new Prophet. He becomes a servant to the King and Queen of Aradec, assisted by the one who found him, known only as The Advisor. Nick's duties as Prophet includes haruspicy, divination through examination of animal entrails. In some cases the entrails are from sapient beings. Nick is not the only human there, whether or not the others were also from Earth. The Advisor is a Rhaokor, sort of half man, half bird, but I'm not sure if they were native to Aradec or from another planet. The Ancient Ones, The Masters, control Aradec, and on occasion Nick would see one of the creatures he had glimpsed before on Earth. He is content to do his duties, keep his head down and not antagonize the Ancient Ones. Someone else throws a monkey wrench into those plans.

A resistance to The Masters has formed, Nick becoming aware of it when he is tasked with interrogating a prisoner. He wants to kill the prisoner right away, since he is sure it is an imposter, and they should rightfully be dead either way. Yet he is roped into the resistance when they break the prisoner out and take him a hostage, at the insistence of the prisoner. Their plan is to find and free some of the Elder Gods from their prisons, and/or find ones that had been in hiding since their defeat in the war against the Ancient Ones. Arduous treks across planets, and through dimensional space, with peril at every turn, and yet there were times it seemed their journey and discoveries were too easy. They are being tracked, but they are able to escape each time, but a spy in their midst is suspected. Since Nick had been working for agents of The Masters, some in the resistance suspect he is the spy, and several want to kill him even if he is not. A few Elder Gods are found and freed, and they lead to discovering others, but their enemy is a most formidable foe. Do they have any chance of defeating them?

A short conclusion to my thoughts. This is as good, and in some cases even better than the first two books. Numerous times it is implied that Nick is the more important member of the Prasad/Chambers duo. He may not be as intelligent in the sciences as Johnny, but he has his own talents, and he had combined those with combat training since coming to Aradec. His skill with a sword comes in handy at a critical moment. However, the ending was not what I expected, and to be true to all that had come before it should have been more like the second book. I still rated it five stars on Goodreads. One of the best compliments I can give a book is that I would like to re-read it right away, but unfortunately that will have to wait. I will re-read the trilogy one of these days, and it is possible I will upgrade my ratings of the first two from the original four stars. The series is highly recommended, and I can't wait to see what Premee creates next.


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Premee Mohamed


Purchase Links:
Beneath the Rising

A Broken Darkness

The Void Ascendant

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