What’s in a name? Earthbound by Mark R. Healy is the second book reviewed here at Amazing Stories in the past year under this title, the other was written by Adam Lewinson. The surprising factor being that both books use the unique context where “bound” references being tied-to rather than a predestined destination. Other than titles and being fun reads, there are few other similarities between the two.
In this Earthbound, our planet is coming to an end. Those living in the decaying land, isolated beneath the toxic skies, have little hope for a future away from Earth. Surviving hand to mouth, the only people with a promising future were lucky enough to possess a passkey, the equivalent of a rare golden ticket off world. The only way to get off of the planet is via the Reach, an aptly named structure housing a space elevator that extends humanity’s hand toward the stars. Surrounding the Reach is a walled in community called Link, the thin line between the hopeless and the hopeful.
The story’s hero is Knile Oberend, an outcast with a murky past who mysteriously ends up with a passkey with a limited amount of time to use it. But before he can cash in on his luck, he must also lead a 13-year-old dirty street urchin named Ursie to the top of The Reach for reasons even he does not fully understand. As the little girl clings to her equally mysterious shiny metal briefcase, Oberend takes her hand and races against time, barely staying a step ahead of a disgraced officer hoping to restore his honor and a determined mob boss wanting to get his hands on the passkey.
Earthbound starts off quickly and does not let up until the last page. Healy creates a dangerous world where the remaining population is left to die and the glimmer of hope is relegated to a limited few. The desperation is believable. The labyrinth Oberend and Ursie must go through on their treacherous ascension relies heavily on the complexity of The Reach, the darks and twisted residual elements of doom that readers will learn are inevitable in a world gone so wrong. And the sensation of altitude as our characters go higher and higher is unmistakable though the authors vivid imagery.
Knile Oberend is a flawed hero with a complex history that readers must learn about slowly as the character gradually develops. As each little snippet is revealed, readers will have a better understanding of how his outer confidence is shadowed by an inner self-doubt. However, there are also moments when his poor decisions just don’t make sense and the character’s believability is weakened. Though some of these discrepancies are addressed later in the story with good reason, the scenes do become awkward and confusing at the time. But at least he is a likeable hero who reader will easily get behind and cheer for.
The character Ursie is enjoyable and a perfect sidekick-of-sorts to Oberend’s hero. Her incessant determination to reach the top are often entertaining and often mood lifting. Whether purposefully done or not, her vulgarity and inconsistent leaps between innocent adolescent and street hardened teenager are a bit distracting and sometimes take away from her charm. Obviously, both traits are acceptable and understandable for a child growing up in the slums of such a bleak world, but together, the flip-flopping does bring pause to the character’s trustworthiness.
This is a bleak world where readers will pull for the heroes and share their desperation to leave. Billed as the first book in The Reach series, one can hope that Healy eventually takes us outside The Link and lets readers discover what may be even darker than the hell inside the walls. The hints of horrible adversities further away are enticing for the fan of dystopian works and the suggestion that transportation may be limited to airships (visible on earlier editions and paperback book covers) imply a steampunk tone. These and other vivid images open the door for endless opportunities in this fantastic (in a dark macabre kind of way) world the author has crafted.
Unlike many literary series, this book does have a satisfying conclusion. Readers will be pleasantly surprised by the ending and just as comfortable with the few loose ends the author purposefully leave dangling. When a book is entertaining, readers can’t help but want more.
There is a distinct difference between being bound for Earth, and being bound to it. It sounds like this is going to be a horrible place in the future, and we know which way we need to go. The novel Earthbound by Mark R. Healy is a fast paced adventure, following one man’s attempt to escape a dying world and leave his sordid past behind. Getting away may cost him more than he is willing to give up, but for the reader, this journey is a must.