Audiobook Review: Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
Narrator: William DeMeritt
Published by Mulholland Books on July 5th 2016
Length: 9 hours 28 minutes
It is the present-day, and the world is as we know it: smartphones, social networking and Happy Meals. Save for one thing: the Civil War never occurred.
A gifted young black man calling himself Victor has struck a bargain with federal law enforcement, working as a bounty hunter for the US Marshall Service. He's got plenty of work. In this version of America, slavery continues in four states called "the Hard Four." On the trail of a runaway known as Jackdaw, Victor arrives in Indianapolis knowing that something isn't right--with the case file, with his work, and with the country itself.
A mystery to himself, Victor suppresses his memories of his childhood on a plantation, and works to infiltrate the local cell of a abolitionist movement called the Underground Airlines. Tracking Jackdaw through the back rooms of churches, empty parking garages, hotels, and medical offices, Victor believes he's hot on the trail. But his strange, increasingly uncanny pursuit is complicated by a boss who won't reveal the extraordinary stakes of Jackdaw's case, as well as by a heartbreaking young woman and her child who may be Victor's salvation. Victor himself may be the biggest obstacle of all--though his true self remains buried, it threatens to surface.
Victor believes himself to be a good man doing bad work, unwilling to give up the freedom he has worked so hard to earn. But in pursuing Jackdaw, Victor discovers secrets at the core of the country's arrangement with the Hard Four, secrets the government will preserve at any cost.
Underground Airlines is a ground-breaking novel, a wickedly imaginative thriller, and a story of an America that is more like our own than we'd like to believe.
Underground Airlines is a modern day setting with many of the familiarities of our every day lives. But in this version of our world, slavery still exists in four southern states, referred to as The Hard Four. It’s an America that does not pretend that all people are equal. Amendments were added to the Constitution to not just make slavery legal, but also prevent those amendments from ever being updated or removed. It was a permanent decision guaranteeing The Hard Four will always be able to continue to practice slavery. The idea of any amendment being permanent and unmodifiable is really scary. When it is one that is discriminatory and inhumane, it is horrifying.
First, I love the prose of this book. The descriptive quality and pacing, all of it is incredibly well done, not too much, but definitely vivid. And for the record, I don’t consider this a fast paced book, I really think it is a book whose strengths lie in its ideas. I also never felt it was slow. It’s the type of book where it is easy to just enjoy the words, picture and atmosphere the author creates.
Victor has an interesting position. One would think that black people would be united against slavery whether they were free or not. But Victor is a young black man working for a government agency, helping to track down run away slaves. He does this because for him it is an opportunity for freedom, a chance to escape his past. A past he doesn’t remember but is coming back to him in flashbacks. Flashbacks so severe that he his body will physically react, sweating and shaking as his mind relives the haunting times of his past.
But his latest case, as he tries to track down a man by the name of Jackdaw, Victor is forced to examine his life, his past as well as his present and future. Everything comes to head in this very thought provoking tale. It is incredibly easy to draw parallels to our own reality in America today. Victor is really in a horrible position faced with a choice to either help condemn and return others to slavery or death (dashing their hopes of freedom), give up any hopes of one day being completely free.
Overall, I found this to be a very enjoyable, quite insightful and thought-provoking book with topics that are very relevant for today’s world. Definitely recommend.
Audiobook Note: The narration was good, and really my largest commentary is just love to listen this narrator’s voice. Really, he is very pleasant to listen to and his performance is well done.
This review was originally posted on The Speculative Herald.