Series: The Fog Diver, Book 1
Author: Joel Ross (site)
Release Date: May 26, 2015
Genre: Middle Grade Dystopian Action-Adventure
Told: First Person (Chess), Past Tense
Content Rating: Middle Grade (some violence and scary situations)
Format Read: ARC (EpicLibrarian)
Find On: Goodreads
Purchase On: Amazon | B&N | TBD
A deadly white mist has cloaked the earth for hundreds of years. Humanity clings to the highest mountain peaks, where the wealthy Five Families rule over the teeming lower slopes and rambling junkyards. As the ruthless Lord Kodoc patrols the skies to enforce order, thirteen-year-old Chess and his crew scavenge in the Fog-shrouded ruins for anything they can sell to survive.
Hazel is the captain of their salvage raft: bold and daring. Swedish is the pilot: suspicious and strong. Bea is the mechanic: cheerful and brilliant. And Chess is the tetherboy: quiet and quick…and tougher than he looks. But Chess has a secret, one he’s kept hidden his whole life. One that Lord Kodoc is desperate to exploit for his own evil plans. And even as Chess unearths the crew’s biggest treasure ever, they are running out of time...
* * *In a Sentence: An imaginative and inventive middle grade dystopian adventure with thrilling action and an engaging cast of characters.
When a desperate young salvage crew from the slums stumble upon a pricey jewel while out scavenging the deadly fog that chased humankind to the mountaintops, they hatch a plan to sell it topside in the hopes of paying their way to Port Oro, a paradise where the woman who saved them can be cured of her debilitating sickness. But after a run-in with mutineers causes them to lose their ship, they find themselves on the run from not only the slumlords they owe but Lord Kodoc, the Rooftop ruler who has discovered crewmate Chess's secret and will stop at nothing to use the boy to gain control over the fog and rule them all.
While I found the beginning a little slow at times, the second half of the book was back-to-back thrills as the crew escaped from multiple pursuers by land and air in exciting feats of skill and cunning. The straightforward writing style made for a quick and effortless read with vivid description, smooth action, and easy, amusing dialogue, and the comical old-world references - a mishmash of scrapbook snippets and phonetic names - wove witty and imaginative tales such as the violent game of Golfball ("So each team had a hole? It sounds too easy to guard. You just put your foot over the hole." "Until the other team starts beating you with their clubs.") and the old saga of "Skywalker Trek" ("...about a space war between the Klingons and the Jedi, set in a future when people lived on distant planets, and fought Tribbles, Ewoks, and Borgs.") that made me literally laugh out loud. The setting was a little hard to accept as a whole, but the environmental concept and societal structure were disconcertingly plausible, and the way scavenged supplies were repurposed was clever (paper money as expensive toilet paper, laptops as bricks in building walls, etc.).
It was the crew that really made this book though, a team of quirky and relatable kids carefully and lovingly assembled by strong, good-hearted Mrs. E to tackle their dangerous but inevitable adventure with spunk and determination. Point-of-view character Chess could be a bit too cowardly for me at times, but when it counted he didn't hesitate to defend and support his family, and although he constantly wanted to he never backed down from what had to be done. Commanding but girlish Hazel was an intuitive captain with a quick mind and sharp eye, forced to be the adult of the group but wearing it well, and I think many a young girl couldn't go too wrong aspiring to be her. Sporty, paranoid Swedish played a good devil's advocate even as his mad skillz at the helm flew them out of several spots of trouble, and newbie brutish Loretta provided some good comic relief during otherwise dire situations. Of all though, Bea was my uncontested favorite, the incarnation of a young Kaylee from Firefly who talks to and maintains machines like a seasoned pro, and added some innocence to the unfortunately rather adult situation the kids found themselves entangled in. But it was all of them together as a well-oiled, bantering crew that really made the book an exciting and engaging read, and at the end I was very happy to know that their adventure continued into another book.
Conclusion: With its unique premise, inventive setting, quirky characters, thrilling action, playful wit, and unique premise, I found this adventurous Middle Grade dystopian and first installment in the Fog Diver duology a fun and engaging read. Definitely recommend for middle-graders and/or anyone who enjoys a good Firefly-esque adventure.
Sequel: The second book in the Fog Diver duology, The Lost Compass, released May 24, 2016. You can read my 3.5 Scribble review here.