They say you should never judge a book by its cover. Let’s ignore that for a second so I can rave about the cover for Low Volume 1: The Delirium of Hope by Rick Remender (writer) and Greg Tocchini (artist). Hands down, it is one of the most gorgeous and detailed covers I’ve seen in a while. This is the kind of cover that, when you see it, makes you dig in to the pages beyond. I was thinking about it today before I started writing this post, and in my head, the cover was all deep blues. Having it in my hands again, I realize this is my brain shifting the subtle greens into blue. The detail work is rich and depicts Stel Caine, our heroine and main protagonist, upside down and shiny in bright, stark relief from the rest of the image.
This not only draws you in but also gives you a sense of depth and scope.
I’d love to have it framed on my wall right the heck now. So, if you’re reading this, and you’re the artist…call me?
The plot is deceptive; officially, the story is set in a future where the sun—our sun—has begun its death march, growing larger and putting out so much radiation that Earth’s surface is no longer safe for humans. Without another world to escape to, the human race dives into the oceans, building two massive cities to shelter us for just a little while longer. Or is it three cities? There’s some debate over that. Probes are launched and sent throughout the galaxy in search of another world to call home, but none have been found. And now, after millennia living in the depths of the ocean, the cities are failing. The needs of millions of people to breathe and eat have taxed the whole system. Having stemmed the tide for a little while, once again, the human race is facing extinction.
Most don’t care. Stel Caine and her husband, Johl, do. Stel scans the heavens, looking for a new place to call home, while Johl hunts the depths for food to feed the masses. Stel believes you can shape your world and your destiny through your attitude and positive outlook; Johl thinks that they should remain grounded in the tangible. They have three children, two girls and a boy. All the children have the Caine blood, which allows them to bond with the helm suit, a powerful weapon and legacy tied to the family like a depth charge.
Now that I’ve set all this up, I have to tell you that this is a story about a family. You have all the sci-fi trappings—a post-apocalyptic future, fascinating technology, cool alien creatures in the form of various fish and fish people—but it all comes down to this family, the Caines, and the events that drive them throughout. The world of Low is harsh and unforgiving. The Caines are put through the grinder more than once, and you get pulled in deeper and deeper with each incident.
I want to call this a deep-sea opera, because it has the feel and scope of a space opera with all the same kinds of limitations and dangers—oxygen deprivation, the sea sitting in for the void—plus the sweeping odyssey of this family, their legacy and destiny. They make poor choices and you find yourself yelling at them in the hopes they’ll hear you and change course. When they run out of air, you can’t breathe. When they miraculously breathe again, you gasp. When Stel clings to hope above all else, you can’t help but do the same. You get invested in them very quickly, and care about what happens to them.
I started out talking about the cover art and want to point out that the interior pages are no less gorgeous and richly detailed. Nothing is distracting in a bad way. I found myself reading all the dialogue first, and then letting my eyes go back over the pages slowly to take in everything. The sense of scale was never lost on me. The cities were huge yet ultimately finite. The oceans vast, dark, and foreboding, and full of unknown dangers.
Of all the books I’ve read recently, this one really stands out. I was impressed with story, art, characters, the whole shebang. One of the top books of the year for me.
Definitely recommend this one.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and 2013 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fanzine (Editor - SF Signal), and 2014 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fancast. He lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast was nominated for a 2012, 2013, and 2014 Hugo Award. In addition to his Kirkus posts, he writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.