Jul 14, 2010: Above Ground is vaguely like Alice in Wonderland in reverse. Instead of Alice falling down a hole, Lilith emerges from the caves that humanity has been living in after an unknown cataclysmic event sends everyone scrambling away from the surface world like house cats avoiding a long overdue bath.
The surface world now belongs to the affected (or the infected if you ask a human), people who have been tainted in various ways, resulting in mutations. Lilith is traveling to the surface with a human tour group to see a “parade of the affected,” at a local theater. But early on, a sabotaged sideshow requires Lilith to flee for her life with the help of a werewolf and part-time sideshow performer named Silver.
What follows are the calamities during Lilith’s first few days above ground. Lilith can’t seem to get it through her head that she can’t get home, and so most of the trip, she is constantly second guessing herself and whether she can trust the werewolf pack escorting her.
Given the extreme circumstances, I found Lilith’s behavior to be consistent and realistic. However, this did not stop me from occasionally smacking my forehead and groaning, “Oy.” Not because she does something dumb or thinks it, but because she makes the same choices over and over even knowing she’s about to make a mistake. If not for the kindness of strangers, this is the type of woman who might trip head-first into trouble every single time. Which is both highly entertaining, and also just a bit annoying. It’s like a guilty pleasure, like scratching that fresh mosquito bite even though you know you’re supposed to leave it alone.
Spoiler Warning: But the conclusion brings down my enjoyment of the book slightly for being anticlimactic. Once the ending is revealed, the reasons for the pack acting so distant do make sense. The reason for the wolves’ interest in Lilith is more of a financial investment than any sense of kinship, and once Lilith is delivered to her goal, no one even bothers to say good-bye. Silver reveals that he will eventually need to see Lilith again, but only so she can lift her spell and let him go back to his own life. Beyond that, he would apparently rather have nothing to do with her. As would all the wolves. It’s . . . bitter, with nothing sweet to balance it out.
Obviously there isn’t much chemistry between any of the characters, so this brisk brush-off is not unexpected or unrealistic. Lilith’s journey is interesting, and the characters and locations kept my interest from beginning to end. This is a story that takes place mostly in Lilith’s mind, so we’re treated to both her interest and her fear of this alien world. But we’re also never allowed to roam too far because Lilith’s is an unreliable tour guide who’s guessing at the thoughts and motives of others. And she guesses wrong a lot.
This series of unfortunate events makes for a very entertaining story, and when a sequel is available, I’ll be looking forward to reading it too. I give Above Ground Book One: The Affected 4.5 stars, and I’d recommend it for fans of dark fantasy or weird apocalypse stories.