It is probably my love of comic books that allowed me to suspend disbelief for this bizarro yet delectable adventure ride of a book. “Beneath the Rising” by Premee Mohamed is the stuff of comic books and superheroes, grand global thrillers and Indiana Jones, ancient gods, secret societies and occult terrors. It’s a buddy tale that becomes something darker, more devastating; a tale of kids thrust too soon into a world of adults and grown-up decisions and challenges, but this is no chummy YA story with black and white fault lines.
This is the story of seventeen-year-old science genius Joanna “Johnny” Chambers and her sidekick, Nick Prasad. Get ready for the improbable to start right away. First Johnny is inventing solar panels and Alzheimer’s drugs at age six. Then there’s how this inseparable pair meets – a terrorist attack in which they both got shot and had to undergo surgery to survive. It hits you with one absurd premise, then another in a freight train of bombastic thrills until you become so used to the absurd that you don’t even blink at the next ridiculous moment. But I couldn’t put it down.
I loved this for the same reason I loved the absurdity of Buffy the Vampire Slayer; that show was such a well-defined supernatural universe explained by its own rules that was equally improbable, and yet the tone was absolutely pitch-perfect and ultimately pulled it off with triumph. Normally I like my supernatural to be subtle; I like to always be wondering, is this psychological trauma, or is this a ghost? But with Buffy, I accepted each in-your-face monster because of the tone. A kind of tongue-in-cheek sarcasm, a hint of absurdist irony, an irreverence even when dealing with serious, dark topics. Snappy, witty dialogue. Like Buffy, but more sophisticated, “Beneath the Rising” was a page turner. I wanted to gallop through this adventure, equal parts hollering, laughing and whispering, and then I didn’t want it to end, even as I shook my head saying “No way, the writing didn’t just do that, go there.”
The adventure unfolds as Johnny’s latest invention, a clean reactor that could solve the world’s energy problems, unwittingly unleashes dark, primal forces from which only two teenagers can save the world. A hilarious, brilliantly twisty merging of magic, retold ancient legend and physics ensues. This is a story of doorways, of locks never meant to open, of covenants and temptation, of power, lurking underneath the absurdist premises. It’s a story of friendship and trust and different kinds of love, loyalty and betrayal. In short, this is hands-down one of the best books I’ve read all year. Just when I thought only comic books could surprise me anymore with their innovative storytelling suited only to that medium, a book like this comes along, an unsung gem that blows me away. I’ll definitely be buying the next book in the series.