Rating: 9/10 Title: Going Down
Author: Ann Somerville
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy, paranormal
US$1.99 (all proceeds benefiting Medécins Sans Frontieres) US $2.99
Summary (from the author): Derzo Einan wanted to help people, and for fifteen years he rescued others from fires, floods and natural disasters. But in the aftermath of a horrific event, he’s left unable to help anyone, not even himself, his gift of empathy now more of a curse and his career in tatters. Running from his demons, Einan finds refuge in a big city, discovering an underclass of helpless hopeless people even worse off than himself—and another soul as troubled and damaged as him. In saving one more person, will he find his own salvation?
My Review: Set in the author’s world of Periter – a world like our own save for the fact that some of the people living there have a genetic predisposition toward paranormal abilities – this 30,000 word novella is an entertaining and excellently crafted story about the power of pain, healing, friendship, and faith, deftly told with a light and loving touch. While a familiarity with the author’s other works set in the Periter universe would most likely augment the story, such prior knowledge isn’t required as the piece stands beautifully on its own, never assuming the reader has taken the other journeys. If you’re familiar with the other works, this likely is a welcome addition to the group. If you’re not familiar with the Periter universe (as was the case with this reviewer), you will discover an amazingly detailed world populated with rich, full characters. You’ll be left wanting to read more, and isn’t that what good story telling is all about?
The focus of the story is Einan, an empath and a trained medic who was once part of a respected military Corps, first responders in all manner of disasters. Following an especially horrific Op, Einan finds himself overwhelmed by the emotions of others and physically drained, his empathic abilities becoming a devastating curse rather than a blessing. Diagnosed with empathic overload and unable to handle the cure of a year’s isolation from all mankind, Einan has left the Corps and landed himself a job working at a little diner in the town of Kundo, an economically depressed city that is drawn with remarkable detail. As Einan, unable to sleep for the pain and memories swarming inside him, traverses the city on one of his nightly walks, we as readers see the world he has found himself in, we can breathe in the oily scents and feel the desperation of not only the neighborhood, but of the man himself.
Deeply trouble by the events he has “witnessed” in the past, Einan is a man who wants – and is some respects, needs – to run away, but finds that he can’t. He longs for distance from the cacophony of emotions all about him, but he can’t live without one of the basic necessities of life: human contact. “I need people. I feel like I’m starving to death without them.” And there is the wonderfully dynamic crux of who Einan is as a literary character. He is a man who is lost, one who wants to find the way – and in some respects, knows the way deep down inside — but he is so clouded that he can’t even find the starting point. As a result, he resorts to all the things that can help deaden the turmoil inside: pills, alcohol and jetka weed.
One night, drunk on giazo, pills and high on jetka, Einan stumbles out into the night, finding himself amidst the indigents who have more emotion that he can handle, but whose plight draws him in, when he is approached by Thalem, a soulful man who is ministering to the poor. Rage burning in him, Einan essentially picks a fight with the man whose calm demeanor does nothing more than incite him. But it’s a fight he cannot win and when the junk in his system overtakes him, Einan is rescued by Thalem, who returns him to the safety of his temporary home and those who care for him. When he awakes the next day, Einan doesn’t know it, but he has found his starting point on the road to wholeness. It isn’t in the religion that Einan thought he saw being preached on the streets, but in Thalem, a man whose demons run as deep – if not deeper – than Einan’s own.
There is a lot remarkable about what Somerville has accomplished here. To create a character as deeply wounded as Einan and not have him turn into a depressing, pitiable character is a feat. Einan is likable, and rather than wanting to turn away from him we, ironically, empathize with him. We want him to turn down the right path, but never do we judge him for stumbling. Somerville has also peopled Einan’s “immediate family” with full-blown believable characters. Lano, an older telepath who serves as his boss at The Bird’s Nest Diner, is a subtle father figure (standing in for Einan’s absent father, a relationship that is lightly touched upon in the back story). Lano’s daughter, Biene, stands in as sister and mother. Sister Hikeri – for whom Thalem works at the local temple – and the cantankerous Doctor Pielan, are of the religious and medical ilk, the type of people of whom Einan has grown suspicious and even resentful. But both are well balanced sides of a coin: Pielan pushing Einan to do what is best; Hikeri content to let him find his own way, providing only a gentle hand on his shoulder. Their portrayal even managed to soften this reviewer’s cynical perception of both these professions. Also kudo-worthy is that, at least for this reviewer, having the story set in a universe so similar to our own, I found quiet allusions to the past of our own world, especially in the depiction of Einan, similar to returning veterans of wars past.
And then we have Thalem, the brooding, soft-hearted man whose earnest desire to help those less fortunate is a lifelong choice, a deep-seeded desire to atone not only for a sin he has committed, but also for sins of which he believes himself guilty. Here is where the story sails. The friendship that develops between these two damaged souls is refreshing, honest. As the relationship grows, Einan begins to look beyond himself, beyond his own pain, and manages to take the first step toward healing. The depth of their relationship is wonderful and as it progresses we see why Einan comes to admire Thalem and comes to develop stronger feelings that he restrains himself from expressing.
At times dark, the novella is ultimately uplifting. It is a story about hope, about having the courage to move on, about regaining a faith in – and unique – to oneself. It isn’t a traditional romance as the future relationship between Einan and Thalem is only touched upon and is left deliciously up in the air. But there is a deep romance here, a romance of friends and of the non-traditional families we always create. It is a deeply satisfying portrait that is painted with a gentle brush.