Published by Freeform
Title: THE LIGHT AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD (The Light at the Bottom of the World #1)
Author: London Shah
Pub. Date: October 29, 2019
Formats: Hardcover, eBook, Audiobook
Hope had abandoned them to the wrath of all the waters.
At the end of the twenty-first century, the world has changed dramatically, but life continues one thousand feet below the ocean’s surface. In Great Britain, sea creatures swim among the ruins of Big Ben and the Tower of London, and citizens waver between fear and hope; fear of what lurks in the abyss, and hope that humanity will soon discover a way to reclaim the Earth.
Meanwhile, sixteen-year-old Leyla McQueen has her own problems to deal with. Her father’s been arrested, accused of taking advantage of victims of the Seasickness-a debilitating malaise that consumes people,often claiming their lives. But Leyla knows he’s innocent, and all she’s interested in is getting him back so that their lives can return to normal.
When she’s picked to race in the action-packed London Submersible Marathon, Leyla gets the chance to secure his freedom; the Prime Minister promises the champion whatever their heart desires. The race takes an unexpected turn, though, and presents her with an opportunity she never wanted: Leyla must venture outside of London for the first time in her life, to find and rescue her father herself.
Now, she’ll have to brave the unfathomable waters and defy a corrupt government determined to keep its secrets, all the while dealing with a secretive, hotheaded companion she never asked for in the first place. If she fails, or falls prey to her own fears, she risks capture–and her father might be lost forever.
“A work of fathomless imagination.”
——Samantha Shannon, New York Times best-selling author of The Bone Season and The Priory of the Orange Tree
“Riveting and exciting, The Light at the Bottom of the World is a heart-racing adventure that reveals compelling and necessary truths about several critical issues of our times, while delivering all the thrills and twists of an epic quest. A stand-out, must-read book that engulfed me in its enthralling world and characters. Leyla McQueen is queen of the (under)seas!”
——S. K. Ali, author of 2018 Morris finalist Saints and Misfits and Love from A to Z
“The Light at the Bottom of the World is a wonderfully refreshing epic adventure, with dynamite worldbuilding and a crafty heroine. Leyla’s determination and talent will keep you hooked in her story, and you will be begging for Shah’s next book before you’ve even finished this one.”
——Rachel Strolle: Teen Librarian, Glenside Public Library District
“Shah’s debut is a fast-paced masterpiece from start to finish. Readers will fall in love with passionate, persistent Leyla as well as her secretive, swoon-worthy companion, Ari. While the tropes of dystopian fiction—corrupt government, fear of the unknown—will be easily recognizable by fans of the genre, Shah has skillfully shaped a gorgeous world unlike any those fans have seen before. But be forewarned: the book ends on a jaw-dropping cliff-hanger. Highly recommended.”
——School Library Journal
LONDON, CHRISTMAS DAY, 2099
The Old World Heritage Society demands a respectable distance be kept from all revered ancient London sites. This respect can take a deep dive into one of those endless chasms in the wild because honestly, I just don’t understand what’s so sacred about ruins.
I turn down the blaring punk rock music ricocheting off the submersible’s interior and peer into the murky green-gray depths once more for any hint of a watchful Eyeball; the tiny spherical cameras could be anywhere. The current looks clear. I steer past the fluorescent face of Big Ben and edge closer to the center of the former Houses of Parliament, toward the soft illumination of the Memorial Candle. A small number of patterned rabbitfish remain transfixed by the commemorative shaft of light. A traditional reminder of the looming anniversary, the lilac ray beams up through the city’s waters as far as the eye can see.
God, how I love staring at it every year.
Sometimes the Memorial Candle is all of humankind echoing up through layer after layer of current and wave and pressure, breaking through the liquid skin of the surface and reminding the universe: Hey, we’re still alive, still going down here! Other times the glow is a greeting across forever, a trillion Old World hugs and laughter and memories and dreams reaching down through the ages, lighting our way.
Sixty-five years tomorrow. Only sixty-five years ago all of this was air, not water. Like, there was nothing all around. Nothing in between structures, below people, or above their heads. Humanity carried on outside as if they were safely inside. Imagine being out in the open without the security of the water, exposed to the whole universe like that? Surreal!
My Bracelet flashes. I check the caller ID on the plain flexi-band around my wrist. “Accept.”
Theo’s holographic face materializes above my Bracelet, his smile reaching his pale blue eyes. “You on your way, Leyla? There’s a money pot with your name on it. We have a clear window — pair of Eyeballs passed by not ten minutes ago, so we’re good for another hour. You’d think they’d take Christmas Day off, but nope.”
The money pot. I straighten, pushing my shoulders back. I really, really need it. Being a driving instructor doesn’t pay nearly enough, and if I get the reply I’m waiting on, then I’ll need every penny of the pot. I have to win today’s sprint.
As if he’s guessed what I’m thinking, Theo nods. “You’ve got this, I know it. And I know you don’t want to borrow but —”
“Hey, I’m fine, really I am. But thanks. On my way now.”
“Great, we’re all gathered by the bridge. Everyone’s here. And, erm, Tabby’s getting, you know, ‘impatient.’ Ouch, Tabs!”
His twin sister’s face squeezes into the frame, with Tabby rolling her piercing blue eyes. “Ignore him, Leyla. Hmm, bet you’re out by the Memorial Candle, all lost at sea again and —”
“Oi,” Theo says. “Just cos you’re a bot, doesn’t mean everyone is. Ouch!”
Every time Theo says “Ouch” I actually flinch as I grin; Tabby’s nails are always pointy and red, as if she’s drawn blood in the jab.
“I’ll be there in a minute,” I say. “And, Tabs, leave Theo alone!”
The Clash’s guitar riff resumes its rightful place at full decibel as I rise. The current is calm. I push the throttle all the way forward and hurtle toward Tower Bridge and my friends.
Light from the countless solar spheres a thousand feet up on the ocean’s surface highlights the watery depths. Beneath me, early morning London is a giant interlocking puzzle of domed titanium buildings interspersed with acrylic transport tunnels — all shadowy shapes and misty lights. The inky body of the Thames passes by, the memory of a river. Londoners feel attached to the legendary trail of deeper water, and its former banks are kept perennially lit. The city glimmers around me. Festive and commemorative signs are everywhere. I approach Tower Bridge where the sprint will begin.
The sight of the bridge always lifts my spirits. I’ve spent more time hanging out here with the twins than any other location in London, our grouped subs giving the adults plenty to moan about.
Rapid movement near the Tower of London to my left catches my eye and I squint: Is someone watching me? But it’s just a glistening oarfish slipping out of one of the upper windows of the White Tower. The creature panics, heading straight into the crab-like machines laboring on the tower’s moss-ridden walls, before its flat silver body dives out of sight. I dip and zoom through the construction’s middle, seaweed hanging off every remaining part of the smashed up bridge deck, and spot the other subs waiting for me.
The twins are in their blue twin-seated craft, a joint seventeenth birthday present given to them earlier this year. I can just about make out their faces. Even in this murky environment, their platinum-blond hair is clearly visible, and the world is instantly that much brighter.
I squint at my competition. Eight subs of various sizes and models — all the usual contenders. I mustn’t underestimate Malik; he’s been paying me for lessons, and he’s getting faster every week. We each chip in with the money pot, and the winner takes it all. Losing always hurts, because I know the coming week will be tough minus my contribution to the prize pot. I used to sprint solely for the thrills, but things are different now. And this week’s festive pot is much bigger than usual.
“All right, let’s do this.” Keung, contender and organizer, addresses us all via group broadcast. “The check-in cars are ready and waiting. Stop points are: St. Paul’s, Clio House on Trafalgar Square, and finally, the Island Housing Project. Usual rules apply — anyone misses a single check-in and the sprint is forfeit for them, et cetera, et cetera. Theo’s monitored the route for Eyeballs, and we should be all right for traffic violations for the next hour. Any questions?”
None. We move to line up at the walkway of the bridge. I give everything the once-over.
“Okay … Ready?” Keung asks.
Here we go. As usual, I’m driving Tabby’s compact but powerful single-seated scarlet number. The cockpit offers a 360-degree scope of my surroundings. Perfect. The more I can see, the safer I am. I hope. I scan once more for the telltale blip of an Eyeball hovering in the depths, despite Theo’s assurance. I can’t afford a traffic violation; three of those and my driving instructor’s permit is revoked. Thankfully he’s never wrong, though, and there’s no sign of the titanium spheres.
Theo’s a technical whiz kid and will happily spend entire weeks fiddling around with the bits on the huge table in his room. It’d drive me up the walls if I didn’t get out into the waters regularly. He’s studied and recorded the Eyeballs’ movements — the exact routes and shifts of the remote cameras.
“And in three … two … one … GO!”
The vessels move. The water churns and heaves and my sub sways. Bismillah. I glance below, push forward on the joystick, and dive until I’m just above the enormous solar-fuel storage pipes. Phosphorous fibers are strewn over them, the celebratory illuminated strands mingling with the green algae worlds inhabiting their surfaces.
The music resumes with an album from the last decade, and I race toward St. Paul’s, climbing, falling, and swerving in time to the beat. My mood soars, my heart expands.
I hurtle over a colossal protein plant, before whizzing above rows of obsolete rooftops jutting out from the ground like Old World gravestones. The brilliant white light of the tall streetlamps illuminates the shadowy grid of streets like ancient moonlight from forgotten skies.
St. Paul’s looms into view. The check-in car hovers above the cathedral, its lights on the antiquated landmark’s partial dome, and a humongous halibut descends inside via the open roof. The destruction was the result of an Anthropoid attack two decades ago — one of the terrorists’ most brutal. I flash until the car acknowledges my attendance. Lights appear in the block of flats next door, the cube-like resin and acrylic structure blinking into life. London’s waking up.
I tear away in the direction of Trafalgar Square and zoom through street after street, passing block after block, over all the ruin and decay and life, of the city’s seabed.
My biggest weakness when racing is I’m easily distracted. It’s maddening. A sight here or there and my thoughts drift and I’m lost at sea, as Tabs puts it. Not good.
Traffic’s still at a bare minimum this early, only the odd craft around. I get to Clio House in record time. The giant construction is Great Britain’s largest historical reenactment hall yet, but I prefer the twins’ Holozone; it’s more private and we never have to dress up! I check in and move on.
London Shah is a British-born Muslim of Pashtun ethnicity. She has lived in Britain’s capital for most of her life, via England’s beautiful North. When she’s not busy re-imagining the past, plotting an alternate present or dreaming up a surreal future, she’s most likely drinking copious amounts of tea, eating all the sweets and cakes, strolling through Richmond Park or along the Thames, getting lost on an evening in the city’s older, darker alleyways—preferably just after it’s rained—listening to punk rock, or losing herself in a fab SFF book or film. If she could have only one super power, it would be to breathe underwater of course!
Her debut novel, THE LIGHT AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD, a YA sci-fi, is out now. You can read more about it here.
3 winners will receive a finished copy of THE LIGHT AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD, US Only.
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