Awakened by James S. Murray & Darren Wearmouth
Grady McGowan has been logging lots of overtime, running a tunnel-boring machine beneath the Hudson River for the massive Z Train subway line extension that will link New York City to New Jersey with an underground express train. They’re even building a state-of-the-art underwater Visitors’ Pavilion in the middle of the Upper Bay. It’s hard work for Grady, but everything is going well … until a huge hole opens up underneath Grady and his machine.
Three years later, the mayor of NYC, Tom Cafferty, is in the Pavilion, presiding over the opening ceremony and inaugural run of the Z Train. The President of the U.S. is a surprise guest (though not a welcome one from Cafferty’s point of view) and Cafferty’s wife Ellen is one of the honored guests on the Z Train heading to the Pavilion from Jersey City. There’s a delay. A shriek over the loudspeaker. And then the train slowly pulls into the Pavilion, emptied of its passengers but with its inside surfaces covered in blood. The chaotic scene that ensues only becomes worse when the president’s secret service team hustles him into the command center, shutting almost everyone else out. They’re trapped in an underwater pavilion that is slowly filling with poisonous and explosive methane gas from the Jersey tunnel, and where some unknown but highly deadly danger has roused and is approaching.
Awakened (2018), a fast-paced science fiction horror novel set in our day, grabbed me by the throat and was impossible to put down. It raises so many questions so quickly: What lurks beneath the surface of the earth? Why are people dying in really gruesome, bloody ways? Why do certain people seem to have an understanding of what’s going on? The answers to those questions aren’t clear at first, but what is crystal clear is that a deep subway tunnel under the Hudson River is an extremely bad place to be stuck in.
With nonstop action and lots of plot twists and turns, Awakened reads like a novel that’s waiting to be optioned as a screenplay. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: it’s a lot like a thrilling, scary amusement park ride. The characters aren’t deep or complex, and Murray’s and Wearmouth’s writing, though competent, never approaches inspired. The focus here is clearly on the action.
The plot is more than a little implausible; in particular, there’s a late disclosure about a supernatural power employed by the humans’ mysterious enemy that was a bridge too far for me, when my willing suspension of disbelief broke down. But Awakened gets plus points for adding an intriguing layer of complexity to its story with a conspiracy subplot that ups the stakes for humanity. I recommend Awakened if you’re looking for the literary equivalent of an exciting and gory action-horror film.
The conclusion to the story in Awakened is open-ended, leaving several plot threads unresolved. The sequel, The Brink, was just published in June 2019, and I’m definitely on board this Z Train to see what happens next.