[For an audio version of this article, please listen to Episode 54 of Recently Read on The Incomparable podcast network.]
My earliest memory of her smells like blood.
I remember just enough.
I woke in twilight, a violet dimness, and looked at the hospital bed next to me: reek of dried blood and disinfectant, the unfamiliar profile of a pale girl visible through a clear mask.
That’s the beginning of Beneath the Rising by Premee Mohamed.
Ok, right up front, I’ll cop to the fact that one of my favourite things about this book is that part of it is set in Edmonton, and it’s where both the main characters live. I’ve never read a book set where I live before, and that in itself was a really delightful experience. I could tell it was in Canada right away when Nick offers to use a toonie to buy a vending-machine drink for Johnny. But it wasn’t until later, when Johnny mentions a couple local colleges (Grant Mac and NAIT) that I was sure we were here in my own adopted city.
But this book isn’t about Edmonton, it just happens to be set here–probably because I think the writer lives here. No, this book is about friendship–a friendship forged in blood. It’s about inequality. It’s about the different ways people navigate through the world depending on their class, race, and gender. Oh. It’s also about monsters. Terrible, eldritch elder creatures, infinitely more powerful than puny humans, from before the dawn of time. And you might have guessed it, they want in, and they want to rule.
Nick is a just-turned-18-year-old. He’s of Indian descent, by way of Guyana, so imperialism and conquest are a part of his family’s heritage. He was born in Canada, but still deals with the racism that comes of being a poor brown person in Canadian culture. Johnny is practically Nick’s exact opposite. She’s a petite blond waif of a 17-year-old white girl who is an utterly brilliant and uber-rich scientist. She started inventing miracle products when she was three.
So while yes, this book is about evil monstrosities trying to tear their way into our world, what grabbed me about it was the journey these two heroes take–how they each struggle to accept the other’s worldview, and how globe-trotting to solve ancient mysteries necessarily shapes and takes a toll on their unlikely friendship.
I won’t say how the book ended, but I will say I found it satisfying and well earned in terms of the decisions each character makes.
If you want a little piece of Alberta with a healthy dose of magic and monsters, check out Beneath the Rising.