For a science-fantasy adventure where dragons and sea monsters stalk the lands and castles can spring up from the ground, there’s a real air of authenticity to Simon Morden’s Down Station.
It may seem convenient that the characters are dunked head-first into this new location via a portal to Down from a present-day burning London. From Mary, on probation from prison, to Dalip, a Sikh student, the diverse group represents a sample of Londoners forced to escape their world. But their hometown and era are not merely so that the audience can relate to them; Morden provides the Capital as the epitome of their weaknesses – the reason why they fight or run and oppose their past lives in Down.
This isn’t obvious, but Morden provides thoughtful nuances of freedom and morality in the back-and-forths of the colloquial dialogue.
This rings even more true, as the world of Down is a blank Libertarian slate where the rules don’t apply, a tabula rasa. There is no governing authority, only power and magic. There are secrets and betrayals – one wrong move means death and never getting back to London. The journey is a constant danger for the protagonists, but Down Station is not patronising or oversaturated with action.
There are horrors that surprise as well as moments of wonder. The story is patient, and every sequence is both a physical battle and philosophical teaching that merge with well-paced hooks.
Down Station is filled with choices that mirror well into the real world, the sense that we are never too far from chaos and it’s the decisions we make that define our future. Just watch out for the wyvern.