AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’ve known the author of this book for over a decade and was provided this book by Problematic Press for review. I’ve also known the founder of the publishing company for some time as well.
The post-apocalyptic and dystopian earth have become quite the rage in fiction as of late, looking towards things like The Walking Dead or The Hunger Games in all their various media incarnations as prime examples of that. Joining this space with his second novel is Nicholas Morine with Cavern: City in the Dark, a light reading novel with some great world building and lot of action but lacking a bit in character development and some questionable pacing.
The titular “Cavern” is an underground city housing millions built under the remnants of the “Old World” with scavenged technology from above. In order to cope with living deep underground, residents of the subterranean refuge are fitted with a device called a “Shunt,” an apparatus drilled into the skull that siphons out negative emotions into a vessel called “The Sufferer,” one chosen to absorb all the collective negative emotions such that the population as a whole can live comfortably with no worries or despair to speak of, an era in which the Shunt-less Domina and a small band of rebels wishes to bring an end too.
Admittedly, it’s a lot to take in at first and from the get go. Morine throws a lot of the world at the reader at once, but very quickly the pieces of the puzzle start to fall in place that bring the world together and it really makes you want to know more about this place; things like how it functions and how long these people have been living this way. The introduction of the Shunt, which also serves a dual function in that it lets people receive broadcasts instantaneously from a propaganda spewing pig of a man called “The Mouth,” is a brilliant parallel to how our culture today is glued to the 24-hour news cycle we consume from the internet or on our mobile devices. It also brings up the question of what lengths would we all go too to become ignorant and live in carefree bliss, be damned of the consequences, something I’ve at many, many times questioned. The group who are trying to bring about change brought up memories of watching the original Matrix film where you had freedom fighters trying to enlighten people who were unaware of what happened to them, while a member of their group was trying to return to a time before he was awoken.
While I was drawn in a lot by the Cavern colony, perhaps the most interesting character in the novel, the same couldn’t be said for the small cast of characters. Hardly any are given a name, just their job which provides a personality archetype for them. You can probably pick out personalities of characters like “The Mountain,” “The Huntress” and “Turncoat” from their titles and it works fine to an extent for the story being told, but I wanted to know more about what drove these characters, especially from the side of the Pro-Shunt movement. The motivation of the rebellion is clear, however I wished more time was devoted to the side of people who fought to keep everything at the status quo and what exactly would happen to the community should they fail to protect “The Sufferer.” The description hints at something sinister, even out of this world, being held at bay because of the system in place but nothing ever seems to come of it. The opening vignette of the book is from the perspective of two people in charge of the care of “The Sufferer,” but they’re never really seen from again until late in the story’s climax, which brings me to the issue of pacing, and in particular, time.
Events transpire in Cavern in a non-linear fashion and a quite a few times I found myself re-reading over sections again to find out when certain things were happening. Two characters who I’ll take about vaguely turned out to be one in the same person and I wasn’t sure if this was meant to be a twist or something that I should have picked up on. The same can be said for when the protagonists are introduced as you’re told who each of them are, but then a chapter is devoted to two of them meeting for the first time in a series of very detailed wrestling matches that overstay their welcome. I couldn’t tell if these people were just being named to advise who were the major players with the rescue event happening later, or if was a flashback to a previous time, an issue with Caven’s finale as well.
After the main story concludes there’s an extra epilogue story and it’s difficult to decipher just where it occurs in the grand scheme of things. It comes across as something that happened while the main events are happening and adds little to the mythology of the cavern. I got excited that there was an epilogue to the story given how it ends, but ended up disappointed in that it didn’t build on what had come in the two-hundred pages or so before it. Maybe that’s being held for a Cavern 2? Fingers crossed!
Cavern: City in the Dark does have a few problems, but as whole package there’s a lot to like. The development of the world is fantastic, creating a real sense of place, and I was invested in the ongoing events despite feeling at times lost in the order of events, issues I would love to see corrected in either a Cavern 2 or whatever future books Morine has in store for us. At a few hundred pages in length, Cavern: City in the Dark is worth a look in spite of its short-comings for those who simply can’t get enough of dystopian future stories and the development of a budding young author who I hope to see more of in the future.