Author: Jeffrey V. Johnson
Release Date: March 2014
Source: Received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Abe had never gotten the chance to do anything more interesting or dangerous than collate, and the errand that Mr. Ebensworth sent him on that morning was only the best assignment he'd ever gotten because of the dearth of competition. He was to go down to Underton and fetch a girl for her aunt's wedding. Having never been to Underton, the literal underworld city in caves beneath Highmark, Abe was looking forward to the simple errand quite a bit.
And initially it was just as he expected it to be. Fascinating and different, the glowing town was overflowing with slightly-seedy charms and hints of magic all around. All that changed when Abe finally found the girl, and suddenly he was surrounded by threats and danger, suddenly immersed in a magical and terrifying mystery.
What was she involved with? Who was the monster pursuing her, and how could Abe hope to survive with only the skills of proper filing to aid him?
The one main flaw this book had for me was an undefined sense of place. We start in Highmark, explore Underton, but as the story progresses I had trouble understanding either of the settings. Was Highmark supposed to be like our world, but in the past? Was this all in an entirely different universe that resembled ours a bit? At one point Abe seems confused by what a television is, so that just confused me more. I needed a bit more understanding of where I was to fully immerse myself in things.
The second flaw with this book as the rather confusing ending. It felt a little too chaotic for me. People were on the same side, people weren't on the same side. Abe seemed lost, and I felt lost. It felt like things were supposed to come together in an "aha!" moment, but I don't really feel like the main point was clear enough to me. This was one of those endings that just had you pausing and asking "Wait...what just happened?" I just think there were too many twists for the story to have a clear sense of direction.
The characters seemed believable to me, however, Abe's relationships with other characters felt distant and surface level. Abe is one of those characters who is sort of sheep like. He just wants someone to point his gun and tell him who to shoot at. The more people get involved, the more chaotic he seems to be spinning, unable to make his own choices. I would have been okay with it if Abe had developed by the end of the book, but he still just felt too passive. It was cute when Begonia was bossing him around, but he never grows out of that, so he felt a little spineless by the end.
Overall, the writing itself was good, and I enjoyed a lot of the author's humor, but the plot needed a bit more work to give a sense of clarity and finality on the last page.