Title: The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah
Publication date: 29 October 2019
Genre: Science fiction | Young Adult
Page extent: 320 pages
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Goodreads blurb: Hope had abandoned them to the wrath of all the waters.
At the end of the twenty-first century, the world has changed dramatically, but life continues one thousand feet below the ocean’s surface. In Great Britain, sea creatures swim among the ruins of Big Ben and the Tower of London, and citizens waver between fear and hope; fear of what lurks in the abyss, and hope that humanity will soon discover a way to reclaim the Earth.
Meanwhile, sixteen-year-old Leyla McQueen has her own problems to deal with. Her father’s been arrested, accused of taking advantage of victims of the Seasickness-a debilitating malaise that consumes people,often claiming their lives. But Leyla knows he’s innocent, and all she’s interested in is getting him back so that their lives can return to normal.
When she’s picked to race in the action-packed London Submersible Marathon, Leyla gets the chance to secure his freedom; the Prime Minister promises the champion whatever their heart desires. The race takes an unexpected turn, though, and presents her with an opportunity she never wanted: Leyla must venture outside of London for the first time in her life, to find and rescue her father herself.
Now, she’ll have to brave the unfathomable waters and defy a corrupt government determined to keep its secrets, all the while dealing with a secretive, hotheaded companion she never asked for in the first place. If she fails, or falls prey to her own fears, she risks capture–and her father might be lost forever.
The Light at the Bottom of the World was one of my most anticipated 2019 releases. It didn’t quite live up to my hopes but was still an interesting and exciting premise.
I’m not sure if I somehow misread all marketing material for this book, but what I read was entirely unlike what I anticipated. Going in, I expected to see more mystery and investigation in London, leading up to the big race (this is what I gathered from the blurb). However, the race happens in the very first few pages, so what followed was a book completely unanticipated for me! Which was quite exciting as I has absolutely no idea what was going to happen.
Leyla lives in a world where Earth flooded, so the humans took to the seas. Above the water line, fierce storms rage making any possibility of living on the surface unlikely. Below, a new Britain has emerged. In London, Leyla lives under the water, using submersibles to get around the city. When she is randomly selected to take part in the annual City marathon, she is delighted. If she wins, she gets to ask the Prime Minister for anything she desires and he will grant it. Leyla plans to ask for her father’s release. Months ago, Leylas father was arrested for something he didn’t do, and she is determined to find him. However, things don’t quite go to plan (ofc not), and Leyla finds herself on a frantic hunt to find her father and run from a corrupt government.
The first incredibly exciting and unexpected element for me were the sea creatures! I don’t want to give too much away, but they are SO COOL. Several different creatures have been genetically engineered by humans for various different purposes and I really want to find out more about the creation of these. It looks like we might find out in the sequel so I am waiting with baited breath!!
Second was the corrupt government. Yes somehow I missed that on the blurb. I really just saw ‘underwater London’ and wanted it. The discovery of the government’s corruption is slow, but it creates a very mysterious and tense atmosphere. As with the sea creatures, I just wish there had been a little bit more to sate my curiosity.
Of the main characters, Armen is definitely the strongest and my favourite. He had such a fabulous air of intensity and mystery about him. His backstory is so compelling and I loved hearing about his life and where he came from. Sadly, Leyla, our protagonist just wasn’t as strong for me. She felt very naive and young for the story. Her constant ‘oh my god, what on earth, I am surprised’ six reveals in really got on my nerves. Given her backstory, I really don’t think she would be that trusting and naive. She felt very very young for the story. I realise this is a YA, but Armen felt so much older and level headed than she did. The difference between how these two behave and act is really quite striking. Either he is a lot older (in which case the romance is really weird) or Leyla’s behaviour didn’t match her age. I did appreciate her strong love for her family though, her driving force throughout the novel.
As a debut novel, I really was impressed with the scope and idea behind this world. But there were a few flaws with execution: dialogue felt stilted at times to me, and I didn’t flow through the story. It really jumped from action to action with no flow.
However! Please don’t let that put you off. Leyla really comes into her own by the end of the novel, and I’m really keen to read the next in the series to find out more about the mystery behind Leyla’s father and the sea creatures!
Rach + Draco