December 16, 2018

Review: Unearthed

Unearthed Unearthed by Amie Kaufman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought this book sight unseen, because of the authors' previous work in the Starbound trilogy. Due to those excellent books, I have certain expectations of Spooner and Kaufman, and I'm glad to say these expectations were met. This is a damn fine story, and I stayed up way later than I should have to finish it.

This book is set a little closer to our time than the Starbound books (one of the protagonists still carries a cell phone, for example), in a future where humanity is on the far side of climate change. It's implied Earth's fossil fuel reserves have been used up and strict population controls have been enacted, but despite all this the planet is becoming uninhabitable. Then an alien broadcast from another region of the galaxy is discovered and the information therein used to build a "portal" (which sounds like a wormhole) opening to another star system with a nearly lifeless planet called Gaia. The race that sent the broadcast, called the Undying, are--supposedly?--extinct, but Gaia is rich in abandoned fifty-thousand-year-old temples and alien tech. Tech the International Alliance, which apparently rules Earth now, hopes can be brought back to stave off our own planet's decline.

Of course, it's not as simple as this. The scientist who translated the alien broadcast, Elliott Addison, becomes convinced that it was a warning to humanity, and when his pleas to slow down the exploration of Gaia go unheeded, he releases classified information about the portal. Which naturally causes a stampede of scavengers, all on the hunt for alien tech. Included are his own son, Jules, determined to unlock the mystery of Gaia and clear his father's name, and Amelia (Mia) Radcliffe, a scavenger from Chicago who is trying to buy back her sister Evie from indentured servitude.

Jules and Mia are our viewpoint characters, and they're very well done. This is a trademark of the authors, the alternating first-person viewpoints, and they succeed again here. The action begins with both Jules and Mia already on Gaia, in the middle of their respective quests, and the above backstories are revealed as well-placed nuggets set into this mostly fast-paced story. Jules is the naive, well-educated, genius nerd out of his depth, and Mia is the scrappy, hardscrabble math whiz who reluctantly teams up with Jules to attain her own goal. Neither one is telling the other the complete truth, and they have to learn to work together and work through their lies to become a team and survive the ever escalating stakes.

Because there's a lot more to Gaia, and the Undying, than anyone expected. This book ends on a most frustrating cliffhanger, one that made me click right over to Amazon and pre-order the next book. (Which means that it did its job, of course.) In the meantime, there's so much to like about this book--the depth of the character arcs, the fascinating series of puzzles Jules and Mia have to solve as they work their way through Gaia's underground temples, and the understated but effective romance. Judging from the ending, there is a great underlying mystery here, and the next book should upend everything we think we know about this world. Bring it on, please.

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