My favourite part of Down Station was the beginning, where we are introduced to our cast in the belly of the London Underground. Mary is one of the forgotten people who clean the tracks after hours, finding lost and discarded items and a whole load of rubbish. On parole, she works with others society might like to forget.
On the other hand, there is Dalip, a Sikh engineering student learning the practical side by shadowing one of the men, Stanislav who repairs the rails. Stanislav has his own past which he is hiding from, a trait that most of the people underground seem to share. Except for Dalip who is happy and well adjusted, his faith not the most important thing in his life but it keeps him grounded.
Whilst at work, something terrible happens and the tunnels fill with fire and molten tar. The passages where they flee from this unknown disaster are full of tension and pace. We never really know what happened that night because the survivors flee through a doorway to a different world.
The fire, the burning buildings, the cindered bodies: she'd been expecting that, had steeled herself to see it. But not this, this wide-open vista, nothing recognisable, no sign of brick or glass or plank or metal or dressed stone.
To be honest, I was a bit disappointed that the land of Down didn’t reflect London at all. I’ve re-read the blurb and it sounds like a few places share names that I missed and there is a river which divides north and south, but I’m not sure I picked up on that. And there was a point I started to wonder if it was all a bit like Lost. Maybe they never made it out of London at all.
I would have liked a bit more character depth, especially as one of the themes was that Down showed you who you really were. It’s a chance for a fresh start but that all depends on being true to yourself and your decisions. Stanislav, for instance, has something that happens to him that felt very sudden. It could have been explored more carefully and gradually, and therefore been a more powerful moment.
If Dalip was struggling with the idea of a world where nothing quite worked the way it ought, she was struggling with the idea that it was going to work exactly the way she'd always wanted it to.
The secondary characters were very cardboardy. They all came from London at different points in time, yet this isn’t taken advantage of in their behaviour or dialogue. Yes, maybe they have been in Down a long time, but most of them were living in isolation. There’s very little sense of being lost somewhere strange and potentially dangerous.
It’s a perfectly readable portal to another world story but nothing special. There’s some interesting magic elements like the buildings growing out the ground where people choose to live, and the ability to change into another form connected to who you are.
Down Station is published by Gollancz and will be available in trade paperback and ebook editions on 18th February 2018. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.
Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive | Wordery
Also reviewed @ Blue Book Balloon | Random Redheaded Ramblings
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.