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BOOK REVIEW: Underground by S.L. Grey

| 21 November 2015 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Underground by S.L. Grey 

August 2015
Paperback, $29.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell


9781447266495 (1)

What happens when a racist, sexist, gun-obsessed family:

‘It’s the Chinks’ fault,’ Brett says. ‘They’re getting what they deserve.’
‘Yeah. But you see how fast the virus is spreading into the US. It’s a malicious threat, militarized. It’s going to hit, and it’s going to hit us big. Worse than there. It was aimed at us.’
‘But how come their own people are dying, Daddy?’ I venture, as politely as possible so that he knows I’m not debating.
Daddy shrugs. ‘Some foul-up? They dropped a vial or something?’
‘I bet they experiment on their own,’ Brett says. ‘Chinks’d do shit like that, Dad.’ Like he’s an expert on the world situation.

Are locked in with a little girl, her distant father, and their pretty nanny from Johannesburg:

His tone is placatory, but I’m not going to be disarmed. Any further than I am already, standing in front of him, barefooted, dripping wet in shorts and a T-shirt. But at the same time, I do want to avoid a confrontation. ‘Yeah, hi.’ Not taking my eyes off him, I step backwards, over the towel, lift it up and drape it over my shoulders and around me like a cape. Like it makes me a fucking superhero.

A rich couple with their fluffy little dog:

‘Keep your voice down. You’re upsetting Claudette.’
Bullshit. The dog’s tongue is lolling out of its mouth, its vacant button eyes barely visible through its fringe of coiffed hair. James is certain there’s a ‘no pets’ clause in The Sanctum’s manifesto. Oh well, if they’re stuck in the Sanctum longer than they expect, they can always eat the goddamned thing’s food (it’s expensive enough), or – worst case scenario – the dog itself. How do you like your shih-tzu, babe? Braised or lightly grilled? He snorts.

A man who wasn’t meant to be there, and would much rather be at home with his dying wife:

Whenever he closes his eyes, he sees Lana lying helpless and alone on the cot he set up for her in the parlour after she came home from the hospice, the tubes connecting her to life tangled around her limbs. The image is clear, sharp, so detailed that he can almost hear the suck and hiss of the oxygen tank, smell the medicinal tang that permeates the room.

A German family, whose patriarch has a mysterious past:

‘I am not speaking of what is in here. We must check the machine room for damage.’ The accent that Leo usually hides so carefully leaks into his voice. Ve hav vays of making you talk. James burps a giggle, hides it with a cough.

And the family whose patriarch was born in Korea:

Brett snorts. ‘Where you from, Jae-Jae?’
‘Vancouver. But we moved to Boston last year.’
Brett begins bouncing the basketball. ‘No, I mean where are you from originally?’
Jae can’t tell if this guy is just yanking his chain or is genuinely ignorant. ‘Like I said. Canada.’
‘You Chinese?’

Are locked up in a half-finished bunker, developed by an ex-marine?

‘Now listen up. I’m gonna tell you the combination, Will, just in case things go bad and I need you to back me up.’
‘Hope it won’t come to that.’
‘Doubt it will, but think it’s for the best. Trusting you to keep it to yourself.’
‘Okay, so it’s easy. One, nine, eight, four.’
‘Nineteen eighty-four?’
‘Like the book?’
‘Huh? Oh, I gotcha. But no. It was the year I joined the Marines.’


Well… Nothing good, that’s for sure!

‘I heard a monster knocking on our door.’
I put the cotton ball down and turn to her. ‘Just a bad dream.’
‘No. She said they’re coming for us.’ Her eyes widen and her mouth starts to fold down.
‘Who? Who said that?’
‘The big monster. She didn’t have a face. It was half made of blood.’ She’s trying not to cry but her chin is twisting a fat drop of water runs down her cheek.


First of all, there are a lot of characters in this reasonably short novel, but it’s pretty easy to keep track of them once you get into it. We have six narrators, one from each party, which allows us access to each little family or group, lets us get to know each of the seventeen people featured through the eyes of someone else in the sanctum, which makes the reader feel for them when they’re in danger.

Four of these are told in third person, but the other two are first person, which might make the reader wonder if there is a method to this madness, a clue as to who will survive in the style of telling, but there isn’t. Once you realise that S.L. Grey is the pseudonym for authors Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg, it becomes clear that maybe the editors didn’t pay close enough attention to the different style of narration, or perhaps the writers and editors thought we wouldn’t notice or wouldn’t care. Essentially there was nothing wrong with either style, though the third person narrative was more engaging and more well written for the most part, but it did throw off the flow a little. If they had been written in the same style, it would have made it more difficult for the reader to see where one writer ended and the other began, and would likely have made for a tighter narrative, all told.

The first one-hundred pages fly by, with the reader learning a little more about the characters with each turn of the page. These pages show the characters as they flee the city and head to their super secret Sanctum, as they get settled in, as they watch the news and prepare to close the bunker door. Already tensions are high, already we have racist slurs, disagreements between families, and one family is locked into their apartment in quarantine. The people who paid to reserve their spot in the sanctum aren’t happy with the guy who built it; the Sanctum isn’t finished, you see, with one apartment, the elevator, and the medical bay all incomplete.

Someone is found dead, anyone could have done it, the clues point to many within their walls, and they’re unable to get out.

And this is where the story slows right down, as the characters stew, as they try and work out how to escape. The next one-hundred-and-fifty pages counterbalance the engrossing opening of the book by being incredibly slow. It seems, once they’re trapped inside and the threat from outside is pushed back, everything flounders a little. Things go further downhill, they face nightmarish conditions, but the characters are holding it together pretty well, given the circumstances. This part almost lead me to rate this book 6/10, or lower.

But in the last fifty pages, everything kicks into overdrive, and you will find yourself once again unable to put it down. Tempers begin to suddenly flare dramatically as supplies run low and the characters find themselves still unable to escape or get in touch with anyone on the outside.

There are some slightly creepy moments, though most of the thrills in this story come from trying to work out who’s doing the killing, and who will be next to go. You’ll find yourself rooting for some characters to survive and for others to die, that’s true, but the story as a whole could have been a little more engaging, and there were quite a few stereotypical characters locked in that bunker.

I’ll be interested to get my hands on some of the authors’ individual titles, and see how evident it is which author wrote which characters.

A little creepy, a little claustrophobic, a little engaging, and reasonably enjoyable, but it could definitely have been more on each front.


Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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